Building -- and Protecting -- Houses in Sri Lanka Terrance Brown of the American Institute of Architects talks about a recent visit to Sri Lanka, where the AIA is helping guide rebuilding efforts in the wake of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami.
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Building -- and Protecting -- Houses in Sri Lanka

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Building -- and Protecting -- Houses in Sri Lanka

Building -- and Protecting -- Houses in Sri Lanka

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

The tsunami that struck coastal communities on the Indian Ocean last December displaced more than half a million people in Sri Lanka alone. Many survivors are still without permanent homes. Architect Terrance Brown recently returned from a survey trip there with a group of American architects, engineers and landscape designers, who were advising the Sri Lankans on how to rebuild. Brown said the damage was exceptionally severe in places because Sri Lanka's natural defenses, like sand berms, had been altered and, in some cases, completely removed.

Mr. TERRANCE BROWN (Architect): We saw a huge hotel, a very large, first-class, tourist hotel, that doesn't exist anymore. It was hit by a 30-foot wave, and that 30-foot wave would have been dissipated had those sand berms that had been built over the centuries--in this particular case, the developer or whoever built that hotel decided to tear those dunes down because they wanted to have an unobstructed view from the rooms of the hotel out to the beach. Well, consequently 250 people lost their lives and there's no building there. The swimming pool's left and the foundations and the floors are there, but nothing else.

LYDEN: Where do you begin when you're looking at this vacant space? And we know there are many organizations wishing to build there. Do you begin by developing the infrastructure first? What would be your architectural recommendation?

Mr. BROWN: Well, the role of the architect is to take a holistic view of how design will affect an entire community. One of the most important things in a tsunami-prone area is to make sure that there are roads that--or lanes that lead from the housing area to higher ground. What we saw along the road was people build side by side all the way along, and generally it paralleled the road, and there was no way to get out of there.

LYDEN: So unless you ran through someone's house, you couldn't even get to the road.

Mr. BROWN: That's right. They'd have to go parallel to the beach, so...

LYDEN: So what will the design look like? Before, they were concrete and side by side. Will they be less dense now? Will they be peaked-roof, one-story, two-story? How will they look?

Mr. BROWN: One of the housing communities that we saw that were well-designed had these lanes that went from the beach up to the road. They were two-story houses that were concrete reinforced columns with the concrete block. And they used an asbestos material for roofing, and one of the unfortunate things I'd just like to bring up is that there's tons and tons and tons of this stuff in the soil, where these roofs are all broken up and splintered, and so there's little pieces of this stuff. That's a great ecological problem.

But back to your question on housing, the housing has to be worked out, the designs need to be worked out to be compatible with the way the people of Sri Lanka like to live. We saw temporary housing, for example, that just didn't work at all. We saw--on the east coast, it seemed to be an awful lot of temporary housing built out of corrugated roofing materials. And if you can imagine, it's basically a hotbox. And...


Mr. BROWN: ...we saw a lot of houses that were temporary houses that were build without allowing any natural flowing air through it, so that would help cool it down. It's just a lot of emergency housing that went too fast that really doesn't serve the people that they're trying to serve. Most of these people that were affected are fishermen, and their livelihood is from the ocean, and that's why they were living along the ocean this whole entire length of the country.

LYDEN: Well, how close to the ocean will the communities be now? This has been a big issue.

Mr. BROWN: On the east coast, the government has posed a moratorium on any building within 200 meters of the ocean; on the west coast, it's a hundred meters, a protective area. And, of course, this does lend some problems, but our belief is that this is the right move by the government at this time. But, of course, you have to be careful with this. I saw a fellow that had his boat--and these buildings were devastated by a 30-foot wave; it was called Arugam Bay. And I saw him working on his boat, and he just come in and left his boat on the sand and tidied it up and tied things down. And then next thing I noticed, he was walking about a half a mile away; he had his boat motor on his shoulder and he was walking home. I couldn't even imagine carrying that boat motor for, you know, just a few blocks, and this guy was carrying it probably a half a mile, and I don't know where he was living.

But we have to be careful and cognizant of what we're doing and planning, so that if we get these people that make a living from the ocean and they have to live a kilometer or two kilometers away up on the side of a hill, how do they get back and forth to work? How do they carry their boat motors? How do they haul their nets, and, primarily, how do they haul their fish?

LYDEN: Terrance Brown is a member of the American Institute of Architects. He spoke to us from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Thank you very much for talking with us, Mr. Brown.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you very much.

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