Written and Contributed by
SEEDS (Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society)
New Delhi, India
After the 2017 floods in Assam, SEEDS collaborated with a local organisation NEADS (North-East Affected Area Development Society) to design and build 80 houses as part of the community-driven flood response programme funded by Godrej.
What is the project about?
Nestled amidst the landscape of India’s largest bamboo reserve, and the mighty Brahmaputra River is the valley of Assam. With its tropical monsoon-rainforest-climate, the valley experiences heavy rainfall and gets flooded almost every year. This eastern Himalayan state also falls under the highest seismic zone of India. Vulnerable to natural disasters, the self-reliant Assamese communities have developed indigenous construction and planning techniques over the centuries, creating a built environment exclusive to the terrain. However, due to haphazard development in the region, the traditional knowledge systems are being ignored, leading to an unsafe environment, loss of lives and livelihoods.
The intervention was formulated with a vision to build resilient communities through participatory design, illustrating a model of contemporary vernacular architecture.
Environmentally sustainable solutions that can help communities to cope with recurrent floods were discovered in the vernacular architectural typology of stilt houses built in bamboo. With a participatory approach and the intent of reviving indigenous practices, a 23 Sq. M. core house was designed following Sphere Humanitarian Standards for disaster response within the given budget constraint.
Spatially, it is a simple, yet multipurpose design, supporting the lifestyle of local communities. The stilt is kept high enough to allow day-to-day activities such as weaving, rearing livestock, storage of boats that are used during floods or a play space for children. A semi-open verandah is provided for social interaction, food preparation or basketry as done traditionally by the communities.
Architects and artisans worked together to develop disaster-resilient construction details that could be built using local materials and skills. Required changes were made to enhance the conventional construction details such as stronger foundations; stilt bamboo columns waterproofed with a rubberized coating; introduction of cross-bracings and use of indigenous tying techniques with rattan and bamboo dowels to make the structure resistant to lateral forces during floods and earthquakes.
While the high stilt helps to cope with the annual flooding, its flexible joinery system allows the homeowners to shift the floor higher in case of overflooding – a unique feature that was adopted from the traditional practice of the region.
As practiced in Assamese culture, all the neighbours come forward on the last day of the construction to lend a hand in finishing the house by preparing and fixing the bamboo mat walls together. And at the end of the day, the homeowners celebrate the completion of the house by organising a feast for everyone.
Project Funded by
Design Team: Local artisans, Sasank IVS, Atul Garg, Kamal Chawla
Engineering: Chandra Bhakuni
Project Manager: Ram Singh
Implementation Partner: NEADS (North-East Affected Area Development Society)
Community participation in the entire process, from design to execution and use of locally available materials, allowed the homeowners to create their own aesthetics and to expand the houses as per their requirements.
What is the impact?
These houses faced two flooding seasons after construction and successfully survived, demonstrating the relevance of integrating indigenous knowledge with contemporary building technologies, especially in disaster-resilient community architecture.
Images by Siddharth Behl, Atul Garg, Ram Singh | © all rights reserved
Drawings by SEEDS | © all rights reserved
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Born in 1994, SEEDS (Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society) has one ultimate goal: protecting the lives and livelihoods of people exposed to disasters.