Cheap, safe house designed for quake-prone areas

By Sher Baz Khan, DAWN Reporter, February 4, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Feb 3: Last October’s massive earthquake woke Pakistan to the reality that it lies in a seismically active region and confronted it with the challenge of building cheap, quake-proof and environment-friendly houses in the most quake- prone areas of Azad Kashmir and the NWFP.

Pakistan-born architect-engineer Javed Sultan has arrived in Islamabad from Massachusetts, USA, with the claim that he has an answer to the challenge.

Mr Sultan told Dawn that he had designed mud houses that could withstand a 8.5 intensity earthquake - one point higher than the October tremor which measured 7.6 on the Richter Scale.

Mud houses could be highly resistant to seismic forces if modern architectural techniques are used in their construction.

“Iran did nothing good by putting a ban on building mud houses after the Bam earthquake. I can prove that Iran’s decision was unwise,” he said, claiming that his building techniques would be best for Iran, Turkey and other countries located in dangerous seismic zones.

All the building materials - mud being the basic - required for the house he designed are indigenously produced and could be put together simply. That makes the construction cost of the mud house very low, he said.

“It costs only Rs200 per square feet to make this type of mud house. A three-bedroom house with kitchen and baths could cost just Rs140,000 to Rs150,000,” said the architect-engineer.

People who lost their houses in the October earthquake could easily afford this cost as the government has promised Rs175,000 for rebuilding a collapsed/damaged house, he added.

A medium-sized house of his design could be built in three to four weeks and has the quality to be warm in winter and cool in summer. It is fully plastered with cement from outside and has very little maintenance charges, architect Sultan said.

However, he declined to share full technical aspects of his design to protect his patent rights.

It used to be a common belief that mud did not possess the elasticity and hardness required for a building to survive big earthquakes but no more as modern techniques had made the belief untenable, he said.

He claimed that the technique he developed gave elasticity to mud. He used commercial Styrofoam in the mud walls and fabric and metal net around the walls.

Mr Sultan said he was the first to introduce a system in which the wall was supported by materials from outside and not inside.

He has constructed a one-room house in the H-11 camp where earthquake-affected people are living. The people are taking keen interest in this system and have shown their interest to introduce it in their areas.

According to the 1998 Housing Census, there were 807,605 housing units in the 12 districts of Azad Kashmir and the NWFP affected by the recent earthquake. It is estimated that 50 per cent of this housing stock has collapsed and another twenty per cent has been badly damaged. This means that over 500,000 housing units will have to be rebuilt or repaired in a manner that can withstand future earthquakes.

Mr Sultan said the government estimates 200,000 housing units need to be rebuilt in the quake-hit areas at a cost of Rs2.2billion. He said he could build the same number of quake- proof houses for about half that money. He said he would provide his design of mud houses to quake- affected people free of cost.

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