Common village house construction since European domination of Vanuatu utilizing locally resourced wood , bamboo, and reed roofing.

Robust Bungalows for Community Based Tourism ?


Benign or Hostile Environments Shape Human Development.


Cyclone Pam destroyed 90% of all buildings on Tanna Island, and had Robust Buildings been utilised the Tourism Industry could have contributed more quickly to recovery efforts

Over the passage of time humankind has grappled with what their natural environment has thrown at them, and as a result, regional cultures have been moulded to some degree by their environment. As a generalisation, peoples living in temperate climates have relatively benign environments encompassing four predictable seasons. Communities have been able to concentrate on developing technologies and methods of production that has allowed their progression into developed societies. Conversely, communities that face extremes associated with cyclones, earthquakes, floods and famines have an environment that is less certain, limiting their ability to confidently plan for their future. Further, catastrophic events impact the very livelihood of people, and consequently, the daily focus can surround the struggle for survival.

The Ring of Fire & South Pacific Cyclone Basin Dominates Melanesia.


Vanuatu lies at the centre of the South Pacific Cyclonic Basin, and has the highest probability of being struck by a severe Cyclone in the South Western Pacific.

Melanesia lies in a global region which is subjected to both geological and climatic instability and cyclones, earthquakes, along with El Nino events are constant threats to most parts of the region. Vanuatu is particularly vulnerable to “Act of God” events, with a high density of cyclones travelling south from their origins near the Solomon Islands, and a high density of seismic events occurring in close proximity to the minor but very active New Hebrides tectonic Plate. The larger Indo-Australian Plate is subducting below this minor plate producing a high frequency of large magnitude earthquakes that directly affect Vanuatu. The extreme seismic activity is also manifested by a high number of volcanoes (24 listed) whose volatility is unparalleled, with six volcanoes presently posing a threat of Eruption.

Traditional “Act of God” Building Methods.


Traditional Construction utilised  many effective strtegies to help them resist cyclonic winds.

Traditional Buildings built at scale have a the ability to house large numbers of Ni-Vanuatu during times of disaster.

Prior to European times, traditional building methods were developed to be relatively resistant to both earthquakes and cyclones. Utilising large sized tree branches for in triangular frames, coarsely woven wall panels covered with reed and palm leaves, basic family housing could be constructed from materials at hand. The light-weight construction ensured that seismic forces were reduced, while their triangular configuration helped deflect wind and helped provide a large stabilising base against overturning in cyclones.

Traditional housing fell out of use with European colonisation, and their construction techniques have only been brought back through programs initiated by a few Rural Training Centres (RTC). Over the past year, a number of villages have constructed a significant traditional building within their compounds as a refuge for their people and it is hoped that they will fill a significant void within community resilience. However, while based on historical designs, they are presently untested against Category 4 and 5 Cyclones.

Post Disaster Recovery : Food is as Important as Shelter.


Many Ni-Vanuatu on Tanna Island were still living within tempoaray canvas shelteres several years after Cyclone Pam struck the island.

Humanitarian Aid after "Actys of God" Cyclones is intermittent and haphazard, placing the livelihoods of the poor at critically low margins.

The Wharf at Lenakel, on Tanna Island is only able to provided limited transporatation of goods  to the island subsequent to disaster events.

While robust housing is imperative for island populations, the fact that many remote island populations come close to starvation after catastrophic events highlight their total dependence on subsistence farming. Delivery of assistance is fraught with logistical difficulties along with political interference, and humanitarian aid cannot be relied upon as guaranteed panacea. Therefore, it may seem surprising that local shops possess rice and other imported food supplies available for purchase. It is simply that local populations, having lost almost everything, do not possess any resources that would enable them to purchase such essentials.

For island populations, starchy crops such as yams, taro, and banana take a year to grow again, and plantation crops such as coconut and coffee over four or more years (if they are able to recover). For island populations, social and economic recovery is at best a medium-term eventuality.

Crops such as Coffee and Coconut palms are often unable to recover from extreme events such as Cyclones, but where they are able, take up to four years to produce nuts useable coffee berries and nuts  after extreme cyclones

The Need for Robust Buildings within Tourism.


Poorly designed and constructed buildings create heightened risks to people sheltering inside during extreme cyclones.

Current local building practices are inadequate to provide any resistance to substantive weather events.

It is notable that in post-disaster situations, almost everything that is needed has to be imported. Recovery may take years and it is important that the micro-economic environment of islands are stimulated quickly.The role of the tourism industry in re-establishing income for communities was a notable phenomenon in the months subsequent to cyclone Pam. As long as infrastructure is intact and industry systems are workable, travellers can and will come back to authentic locations. Income from tourism operations flow throughout small communities, enabling people to re-establish their lives, and while not a complete answer, it is one strand within a woven resilience strategy.

Most tourism relies on specific types of accommodation to house travellers and there is a need to have some surety in facility resilience. Ideally, tourist accommodation should have a calculable resistance to cyclones and earthquakes that can only be ascertained through the use of modern engineered designs. The “Laws of Babylon” concept used in traditional designs makes any measurability of resistance impossible, their variation of construction increases uncertainty of performance, and their “A” frame configuration makes them less suitable for tourists. There is a need for the development of “Robust” building types that meet the needs and wants of travellers.

Robust Buildings | Engineered for Remote Islands.


Robust housing units have to be small enough to be transported easily by Ute

The Use of Local resources where available is an essential part of Robust Bungalow construction.

Robust Bungalow's utilise strong portal Frame construction using Engineered Timber for dependable strength

‘Robust buildings’ are specifically designed to cater for the extreme design conditions prevalent in the South West Pacific.

The limiting nature of traditional construction methods, lack of any substantive building materials and skills, imparts immense difficulties in establishing any robust building system based on local knowledge. Consequently, the main structure of any ‘Robust Building’ must be imported into any remote islands. This presents insurmountable problems for island communities, who have little financial ability, and almost no inbound freight services.

Therefore, the challenge is to provide buildings that are not only engineered to resist cyclonic action but are easily transportable, and cheap to construct. One way that this can be done is to develop a construction system that also acts as its own boxed packaging for freight purposes. Careful design allows a boxed modular structure, that can be bundled together, easily freighted, transported by ute’s over 4WD tracks, unpacked, and fitted together to form a sturdy building.

As a part of the design, there is a need to provide a perimeter skin over the building that is capable of resisting debris penetration during cyclonic events. On top of this, the floor level must be constructed above natural ground to prevent water ingress, but incorporate sufficient weight to hold it down during periods of extreme wind uplift.

The construction of ‘Robust Buildings’ need to show that they can fulfil the very restrictive criteria set by transportation requirements, demands of simple construction procedures, and extreme design loadings.

Trial Robust Building.


Detailed plans of Robust Buildings form a part of the strtegy to ensure that Robust Bungalows can be erected quickly in remote locations.

Most larger commercial tourism facilities embark on their own infrastructure programs depending on their investment priorities and strategies of their owners. Community-based tourism rarely has the capability, or resources, to develop resilience in their infrastructure and struggle from one calamity to the next. Often the damage to infrastructure is so severe that communities just give up and unique tourism alcoves are lost to the industry and the economy.

“Tourism Toolbox” has embarked on a small trial building that attempts to satisfy the criteria that a “Robust Tourist Bungalow” is required to fulfil. To be successful any such established program requires to go through a “Proof of Concept Stage”, and the progress of this trial is documented in subsequent articles.

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