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Grace Under Pressure: Investigating a Design Response in Event of Disaster

Part 2 Project 2010
Elonah O'Neil
University of Pretoria Pretoria South Africa

With the accelerated rate of urbanization in African cities the threat of disasters yield staggering implications. South Africa has of yet no formalised shelter standards and depend on a patchwork of universal solutions and local improvisation.
The emphasis of the project falls on filling the gap between short-term relief provided in an emergency phase and the time frame left over until [or whilst] reconstruction is taking place.


The hypothesis encourages designers to stop viewing shelter as only a temporary solution, but to rather see it as a starter kit with the potential of becoming a home. Where as conventional ‘donor’ structures may economically shelter the body, they neglect to address issues of home [context] and belonging [culture].

In the wake of disaster both tangible and intangible losses occur. Sudden changes in environment and situation have a great impact on how relief efforts are carried out and experienced. The potential of space to aid emotional well-being is overshadowed by limited time and resources in the case of an emergency.

Sheltering solutions require an architecture that is as demanding as it is low cost. Thorough investigations into cardboard was undertaken to provide feasible flat pack typology. By developing the exterior and interior as a single structural system, the proposal allows the concept of arrangement to into play. Hence affording the displaced person with as much humanity as one can fit into 3,5sqm and enabling just a little bit of grace under pressure.

Elonah O'Neil

With this study, Elonah O’Neil conducted a critical investigation into rapidly deployable structures. She highlighted the potential of cardboard as an alternative building material through translating ideas and terminology used in the packaging industry. Using an interdisciplinary approach Elonah translated packaging principles through a series of visually documented experiments. This resulted in a plausible and accessible architectural language.
Elonah presented her argument on the basis that 95% of disaster related deaths occur in countries that annually contribute less than 2% of their GDP to research in disaster management. With the thesis Elonah aims to formalize a regional design approach (focusing on disasters) from within the discipline of interior architecture. She also challenges certain misconceptions surrounding the topic of emergency relief. Furthermore, the capacity of interior architects and necessity of the discipline of interior architecture to design for humanitarian aid is investigated by Ms O’Neil.
Elonah utilised a variety of available software and graphic devices as a powerful tool to communicate a spherical body of research. She managed this in a concise and logical manner. The final design proposal represents a structured argument that employs carefully balanced devices.
During her studies, Elonah made various discoveries on theoretical and contextual levels. She communicated applicable findings using text, photographic surveys, renderings, information graphics, and models. These were constantly employed to enrich the design. It is expected that this design (and the accompanying document illustrating the design process) would become a standard of reference, within the complex discipline of interior architecture.
Elonah’s full dissertation is available at:
Mr Nico Botes, Study Leader
Mr Jacques Laubscher, Mentor
2 September 2010


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