Looking to Resilient Design for a Cyclone-Battered Coastal City in India

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014

Power lines and a passenger bus are seen after being damaged by strong winds caused by Cyclone Hudhud in Visakhapatnam on October 13, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Power lines and a passenger bus are seen after being damaged by strong winds caused by Cyclone Hudhud in Visakhapatnam on October 13, 2014. Photo: Reuters

The following is provided by Ramana Koti, a building performance analyst with Lord Aeck Sargent in Atlanta, Georgia.  -Alex Wilson

Heavy damage and disruption to normal life caused by severe weather have been exemplified by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the Greensburg, KS, tornado among others in recent times. While I’ve been a resident of US for a while now, the recent damage to my hometown in India, Visakhapatnam (Vizag), from the cyclone Hudhud has been very saddening.

Things seem to be returning to normal very slowly but the scale of interruption to power, water, and other daily supplies has been unprecedented, even for Vizagites already hardened by poor infrastructure. For the first time to my knowledge, the festival of lights, Diwali, usually celebrated with oil lamps and fireworks, was much muted this past Thursday.

It turns out, Visakhapatnam has to be entirely rebuilt after cyclone Hudhud. As harrowing and disruptive such weather events tend to be, they can also be opportunities to rebuild wisely. This is where principles of Passive Survivability and Resilient Design come into the picture.

Passive Survivability is a building’s ability to maintain critical life-support conditions if services such as power, heating fuel, or water are lost. (More details here.)

Resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption of some sort. (Some strategies are listed here.)

In a blog post of mine from September 2012 titled Visakhapatnam and Architecture – I, I had argued that Visakhapatnam should combat placelessness and explore an architecture that responds to regional factors such as climate, vernacular design, and culture, while including principles of Passive Survivability.

With Hudhud and its aftermath fresh on their minds, as Vizagites make plans for restoring normalcy, the approach to building/rebuilding Visakhapatnam seems like a worthwhile discussion to revisit.

A private tanker supplying potable water in Visakhapatnam. Photo: Reuters

A private tanker supplying potable water in Visakhapatnam. Photo: Ramana Koti, 2012

How can Passive Survivability help Visakhapatnam?

Originally crafted in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, this concept has universal applicability and can be adapted to Visakhapatnam’s climate and culture. For example:

  • Fenestration and spatial design for natural ventilation would greatly enhance comfort and survivability during loss of power, given the hot and humid climate of Visakhapatnam.
  • Maximizing access to daylight in buildings would improve functionality during the day when electric lighting is affected by loss of power. This approach to daylight design can complement natural ventilation strategies.
  • Municipal water is a scarce commodity and groundwater availability is spotty. Purchasing potable water from private suppliers is a way of life for several communities. Rainwater harvesting policy and design guidelines, given the abundant rainfall experienced by Visakhapatnam, can help with access to water both during normalcy and following extreme weather events. Cities like Bengaluru already have rainwater related ordinances. Recharging the groundwater table can be a useful application for rainwater in addition to being stored for both potable and non-potable uses.

How can Resilient Design help Visakhapatnam?

Hudhud caused extended power outage that lasted for days and supply has been intermittent ever since. Scarcity of commodities like milk and gasoline created anxiety and unrest. Some example strategies to improve resilience:

  • Buildings with on-site renewable energy can help with cellphone charging during loss of power. They can also help with refrigeration of milk and perishable food supplies, water purification, etc. This could be applied at a building scale or at a community scale.
  • Materiality and construction techniques should take into account factors such as damage from falling trees, corrosion from the salty/humid coastal breezes, etc.
  • Building design that can withstand flooding can help prevent loss of habitat
  • Design of infrastructure such as roads and drains that can withstand flooding

Clearly, Passive Survivability and Resilient Design are not mutually exclusive. Strategies in one area can help in the other. The strategies listed here are by no means exhaustive, the links provided earlier with the definitions are more comprehensive resources.

Extreme weather events might be out of our control but preparedness and responsiveness are definitely within our control. I urge all the practicing architects, planners, and policy makers who will be influencing the rebuilding of Visakhapatnam to base their approaches on lessons learned from the recent disruptions and long term infrastructure issues while giving Passive Survivability and Resilient Design due attention. Let us prevent Hudhud and its aftermath from becoming a lost opportunity. If Greensburg can do it, so can Visakhapatnam!

Ramana Koti, LEED AP BD&C
Associate
Lord Aeck Sargent, Atlanta

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