Friday, April 24, 2009

Concerning cladding

This was to be Laura's happy birthday: we were going to help the local carpenter with the construction of Red Cross shelters. These shelters have a timber frame, with bracing and concrete foundation columns, which makes it sturdy but expensive. The cladding is made of tin sheeting. People love tin sheeting in Bangladesh, even though the climate inside becomes rather uncomfortable during the hot season (9 months of the year). The whole thing is put together by a group of carpenters who were trained by the Red Cross. We got to witness their excellent craftsmanship. This made us rather self-conscious about our own practical skills. Practice makes perfect...

We have visited different types of NGO shelter designs during our field trips. They all had different sizes, foundations, structures, claddings, bracing, details, materials, costs, construction processes. During our stay in Kuakata we are trying to research the small scale developments after the Sidr cyclone of 2007. Fortunately, for us that is, the Red Cross is still constructing their final shelters. This also means that some are still awaiting the possibility to move to their new designer home. Others were less lucky and were not put on the list of beneficiaries. Due to "fuzzy bureaucracy" at the government, people often had to pay a large amount of money to be on this list. Not to mention the great advantage it has to be a relative of the local chairman.

Right after the cyclone, many people lived along the embankment in temporary shelters. Many of these still live in these improvised homes, which have slowly evolved into a rural slum area that has a permanent character. Some have left to their NGO house, some are waiting to move, still others will be staying. Some families gave their new NGO house to their son, leaving them with their old shack. It is clear that the NGOs had to act quick, in order to give all the people a permanent shelter as soon as possible. The Red Cross got permission to build these shelters on appointed plots of government owned land.

Often, the shelters are aligned in lines along roads. There has been little or no planning on the scale of urbanism. More attention was given to the structural aspects, to make sure these houses would hold against heavy storms and small cyclones. The inhabitants of these houses have been trying to adjust them to their personal and cultural liking: the major addition being a veranda on the front and back side. Some have verandas on all sides, which makes the house look more like the wooden traditional houses (with tin sheeting as cladding and roof) that we see in Bangladesh. We are very interested to further analyze the possibility for the beneficiaries to transform their NGO core house into the traditional house that is embedded in their culture. This involves looking into the living pattern: where do people cook? Where is the latrine positioned? How are the houses situated in traditional settlements? How does the house relate to the pond?

So... there we were, getting our hands dirty. It was quite cloudy, so it did not get to be 43 degrees like it does here these days. Laura was preparing the galvanized metal plates for the wooden connections, Magnus was busy chipping the wooden window frames, while Diederik was nailing the connections of the beams with these plates. See the pictures for some details of the building. It was very interesting to see how the construction of such a shelter looks like in practice. The whole process was controlled by the Red Cross, who's engineers did some quality checks while we were there as well. 

We finished the day with another dangerous motorcycle ride, and hope none of the shelters will falter because of our clumsy skills!


  1. Mr. D, an illuminating personality, as always. Keep up the good work!


  2. I seems that you are working very hard. It can be more improve. So keep it up.
    Sheeting and cladding