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MIT architects will design housing for Turkish earthquake victims

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Architects from MIT recently returned from a survey trip to Turkey where they chose a site for homes they'll design for some of the thousands of people left shelterless by the August 17 earthquake. At least 12,000 people died in that earthquake and as many as 200,000 were left homeless.

The two-acre site lies along a sloping, wooded valley about 10 km from Adapazan, one of the hardest hit cities. Unlike much of the land in and around the area, the building site is not landfill, but rests on a rock base.

"Our goal is to design something that suits the needs of the Turkish people in a way that fits with their culture. We want to use sustainable materials, like wood that grows locally, and sustainable forms of energy, because the world is running out of resources," said Professor of Architecture Jan Wampler, who initiated the project after learning about the extensive devastation wreaked by the earthquake, which had an epicenter 65 miles east of Istanbul, near Adapazan.

He and the 11 architecture graduate students working with him in a design workshop will begin design work immediately on the 50-unit complex, which they plan to complete in six weeks. Wampler said he hopes construction will begin soon afterwards so that the project can be finished quickly and used as a demonstration project that could be replicated by the Turkish government.

"Although it isn't a large project, it's something to start with and we're hoping that it will grow," said Wampler.

While in Turkey, the MIT architects were hosted by two MIT architecture alumni living in Turkey -- Barbara Brady and Rukiye Devres, who organized the trip and the project. The group talked extensively with people living in a "tent city" near the town.

"The fortitude and courage and determination of these people, many of whom had lost family members in the earthquake, was just astounding," said Wampler, who said the trip was an intense emotional experience.

Much of the destroyed housing in the area had been made of reinforced concrete using western standards.

"The people we talked to don't want that sort of housing. They're from rural areas where homes are made of wood, and are more human. We want to use wood. We want to preserve some of their own culture," said Wampler. He added that wooden structures are both lower and often more resilient than reinforced concrete in an earthquake because the wood is able to move around a little.

The architects predict that the complex will have about a dozen four-unit buildings no more than two stories high.

"If you had lived through an earthquake and been trapped under concrete for hours at a time, you wouldn't want to live in a tall, concrete building," said Wampler. They also plan to provide common areas, perhaps tea rooms and children's play areas, to preserve a sense of community.

The MIT team will work with architects and engineers from the Istanbul Technical University. The group anticipates that the United Nations or another international organization will pay for the project. MIT's Department of Architecture and the Aga Khan Program at MIT paid for the students' trip to Turkey.

Wampler's interest in combining architecture with humanitarian work is not new. Last spring, he took on a similar project in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. He and a group of graduate students worked with a Honduran university to design the first ever multi-story housing for that country. In that instance, too, Wampler tried to design the housing community in a way that preserved local culture. "That's a theme running through all the work," he said.

"This type of project helps students to reach out beyond the confines of their own culture. It is just the kind of thing that MIT should be doing," he said. The graduate student/architects working with Wampler come from Britain, Costa Rica, India and Italy, as well as from Puerto Rico and the United States.

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