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Building back better after Cyclone Evan involves ancient architecture

Architect Anne Godinet-Milbank believes that in terms of housing, Samoans had it right from the beginning of time.

As the first Samoan student studying for her PhD in architecture with funding from the William Chick Memorial scholarship, Ms Godinet-Milbank is in Samoa doing an internship at UNDP taking the “build back better” approach after the destruction caused by cyclone Evan.

The project is strongly supported by the Samoan government she said because it is geared to getting Samoans back on their feet quickly after natural disasters.

“The houses need to be more resilient, culturally appropriate and while covering Western expectations of disaster resilience they still need to be structurally similar to the Samoan faleo’o.”

“It’s important for the economy but also we know that disasters are likely to occur more frequently and be bigger than what previous generations were accustomed to.”

Working with Isikuki Punivalu and Associates, Ms Godinet-Milbank said they have come up with a simple design using treated timber so it maintains its integrity.

“It has been engineered so government can say, here’s a way you can build a house calculated to be cyclone proof and on poles for flood protection.”

“We are encouraging people to go back to tying because it works best in cyclones,” she said.

Ms Godinet-Milbank believes there is much to be learned from structures built in the past.

“The Samoan architects were doing it right; using lashed arches and steep, pitched roofs which were much stronger in cyclones.”

She points out well-known problems of building Palagi-style houses as well as a few new ones.

“Palagi style houses with their separate bedrooms have been identified as the reason for rheumatic fever with their lack of air flow. They are unsuitable in a cultural sense, as well as in terms of health and climate.”

“The way people live now, also makes them susceptible to crime – little separate houses – no protection from the village style of living.”

For this reason, Ms Godinet-Milbank believes it is important for Samoans to take charge of their own building environment and tailor it to suit themselves.



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