A Storm-Resistant School Concept in the Philippines

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By Tim Hanrahan / Published by Dwell
One studio's response to Typhoon Haiyan for a multi-purpose, storm-resistant school in an affected area of the Philippines.

Just six months ago, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines with over 6 million people displaced from their homes and 4,500 schools destroyed. MAT-TER, a design studio based outside of L.A., has responded to an open-source design challenge by Open Online Academy (OOAc) with a typhoon-resistant school that not only serves an immediate local need, but also presents a concept that forwards the disaster prevention debate.

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"Typhoon winds are unpredictable and can change direction anytime, as it was in the case of Haiyan. Realizing this affected our design decision to give our building its curved form that is aerodynamic in all directions," says designer Christin To. "Both the aerodynamic form of the roof and the internal organization of the spaces were derived from the concept of resilient geometries found in nature, such as the morphogenesis of biological cell structures and self-organizing patterns of atoms."

MAT-TER's proposal for Guiuan National High School aims to serve 1,000 students and the city of Guiuan by serving as a community center and a space of safe, mass shelter for Haiyan-paralleled natural disasters. According to Christin To, MAT-TER co-founder, "Most buildings predominantly failed in their roofs." This analysis inspired a curved geometrical roof form that is "brought down to the ground to create a continuous aerodynamic surface that resists high winds." The design is composed of internal modular units of different scales that fit together on a uniform structural grid under the roof. The school is mostly built out of bamboo—an accessible and sustainable material in the Philippines that is strong enough to withstand typhoons, earthquakes, and floods.

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The Guiuan National High School, illustrated as mass shelter during a natural disaster. Says To: "The challenge was, 'How can we create a school that is inviting and resilient at the same time without looking like a bunker that would always remind people of the next possible typhoon hitting land?'"

To credits the OOAc for expediting the design process, suggesting that the open-source collaboration is perhaps "one way of improving upon how we can think about architecture in general," especially when circumstances dictate fast action. "It is clear that we are not moving fast enough, and even if there are projects out there that had been designed for disaster-resilient and -prevention purposes, we are not seeing enough of them implemented," To says. "In that sense, we are all failing as a global community."

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MAT-TER chose bamboo as the primary building material, "in order to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible throughout all stages of the building's lifespan," says To. The bamboo and interior modular units resist the effects of climate change and are flexible to local repair should a disaster incur damage. These interior units support each other and the main flooring system and are also elevated aboveground on a grid of concrete pilotis "to allow wind to pass underneath and protect flooding."

Currently, the school is being presented to government officials and organizations for funding. At the same time, the design will have more impact beyond Guiuan. The project is now also a malleable and accessible open-source prototype via OOAc for Resilient and Sustainable School Design to be used for other disaster-prone areas across the globe. 

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"We wanted to create an open and inviting space that speaks of the local culture and provides an inspiring learning environment for children and local communities," To says.