In April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal with an epicenter 50 miles outside of the capital, Kathmandu. Natural disasters of this scale are devastating, but some experts argued that unregulated construction compounded the damage and death toll. The New York-based firm SHoP Architects recently announced a partnership with two socially driven advocacy organizations, Kids of Kathmandu and the Asia Friendship Network, to aid in the rebuilding process by constructing 50 new schools in the hardest-hit areas.
Many of the 50 schools will be in remote locations, so most of the materials are easy to source and inexpensive—like compressed earthen brick—and the design is flexible enough to adapt to specific site conditions. In terms of the structural bonafides, SHoP engineered the buildings to have concrete foundations and a steel truss roof to make the schools more resilient should another earthquake occur. Meanwhile, solar power, water purification systems, and wireless Internet will outfit the buildings—with the goal of making them available to the rest of the community if other natural disasters arise in the future.
SHoP also plans to release the designs so other organizations can use them as a jumping-off point for other post-disaster construction projects. This open-source approach to humanitarian architecture is evolving elsewhere, too. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban—who has long worked on disaster-relief structures like this wood-framed house in Nepal and this paper house in the Philippines—recently told Reuters that he wants and encourages organizations to copy his work. While Architecture for Humanity, one of the biggest champions of open-source architecture, abruptly shuttered in January 2015, other organizations are clearly continuing to build upon the philosophy.