Machineless Construction Strategy to Build Cyclone Resistant Women’s Centres in Bangladesh


LOCATION: Bangladesh

SUMMARY: This project is a Machineless construction strategy based on least physical strain to build cyclone resistant shelters for women in rural Bangladesh. The project’s aim is to empower women in rural Bangladesh and alleviate them from poverty by engaging them in constructing cyclone resistant buildings to be used as women centres throughout rural Bangladesh.

Rural Bangladeshi men have mosques and marketplaces to congregate at; however, the women remain in the private spheres of their home. This division of public and private spaces is based on Islamic belief in different genders roles in marriage but this is changing as women return from urban cities to rural communities bringing new ideas such as taking an active role in communities and earning. This project will facilitate this change by providing places for women to meet other women beyond their homes where exchange of knowledge can also occur through training and workshops.

The importance of providing spaces that are comfortable and acceptable for women to congregate at is a matter of life-and-death. My conversations with local Bangladeshis shortly after Cyclone Sidr in the affected southern districts revealed that women make up the highest percentage of the death toll, which is the reality in every natural disaster that they endure and experience. Many women do not escape to safety during a natural disaster because the household is their responsibility, and therefore keeping their possessions and livestock safe are priorities. Cyclone shelters in rural Bangladesh are very sparsely distributed, with husbands migrated to cities women are unable to travel them without a mahram because they are too far.

This project is a trimtab because it will alleviate rural Bangladeshi women from poverty, and save lives through the ease of construction of more cyclone resistant shelters. This project is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. It has been designed to respect local culture and resources. Through the transfer of knowledge, Bangladeshis would be able to build cyclone resistant shelters without relying entirely on foreign aid.

PROBLEM SPACE: The strategy is comprehensive in addressing issues of women poverty, shortage of cyclone shelters, and appropriate use of local skills and resources. Better built shelters can mitigate against increasing natural disasters in Bangladesh which tripled in the last 50 years, and also saw migration rise 25% to cities due to failing agriculture. This strategy will reinvigorate rural areas. The strategy uses sundried tiles (embodied energy 1/3 of a brick), and passive energy systems to maintain comfortable habitable spaces in the shelters. The strategy is feasible because it relies on mud craft, labour and based on low tech trimble vaulting, which dates back to 1392 in Catalonia and America. Structural tests were performed by Cambridge University and architect, Rafael Guastavino. Precedents of these structures in Cuba have withstood hurricanes for decades. The strategy is modular based, adaptable to different conditions and requirements, and easy to execute after knowledge is transferred.

SOLUTION: The proposed project is at the stage where it is developed; through conversations with local Bangladeshis I met in the southern districts affected by Cyclone Sidr and in consultation with architects, engineers and NGOs, who are experienced in operating in similar climatic and environmental conditions.

The implementation plan over the next three years:
Phase 1: preparations to/and carry out building of one module using proposed strategy in Bangladesh - includes engaging a local community, site to build, and production of sundried tiles (using minor adjustments to local methods), and constructionof one module. The aim is to test effectiveness and ability to communicate and engage with locals through training and building, and perform further structural tests.

Phase 2: analyse results from testing with structural and environmental experts, refine design strategy and engage with wider shelter humanitarian aid community offering an alternative solution in cyclone shelter building.

Phase 3: return to Bangladesh with refined strategy based on locals’ response to Phase 1 and results from tests, and transfer knowledge to locals through construction. Develop women’s centre program with locals and specialist NGOs.