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Article Originally posted on CDKN Blog July 2013

Kate Hawley of ISET International introduces a climate-resilient housing design competition underway in Vietnam, which is part of a CDKN-funded project called ‘Sheltering from a gathering storm’.

“This is the 2007 flood level,” explained Mr. Cao Giang Nam, a lecturer from Da Nang Architectural University in Vietnam. As I looked up, I realised the flooding level in Hoa Chau ward was taller than me, exceeding my height at 170cm. “How is this possible?” I ask myself. “How does someone actually survive flood waters taller than 170cm?” These questions continued to fill my head as we walked the roads of the Hoa Chau ward in Da Nang city.

Many factors contribute to the almost annual flooding in the city of Da Nang, Vietnam. Flooding is often triggered by heavy rainfall events associated with the monsoon or typhoons either in the city or upstream in the Vu Gia-Thu Bon river basin. Storm surges and high tides during rain events can exacerbate flooding.

Climate change is expected to result in shorter bursts of heavier rainfall, instead of the more consistent rainfall that is traditionally experienced. What does this mean? It means more flooding for the residents of Da Nang.

For typhoons, the future risk is less clear. Since such limited information exists concerning typhoons in Southeast Asia, we cannot be sure of what will happen. The science suggests that typhoon frequency may reduce, but intensity may increase.[1] This would mean that when a typhoon hits, the risk of flooding is higher.

However, a changing climate isn’t the only cause of increasing flood risk. A policy brief we published recently found that rapid development in Da Nang’s urban and peri-urban areas is also contributing to more frequent and severe flooding.

Da Nang is a quickly urbanising metropolis in Central Vietnam which in recent years has enjoyed an 11% growth rate of its economy.[2] The city’s beach front is a key attraction for Korean Development Companies and home to the great ‘Dragon Bridge’ recently completed in 2013.

In-filling measures have been used extensively by the city over the last few years. In the case of Da Nang this means that soil from the nearby mountains is transported to this coastal city and piled high in certain areas to create higher ground for the building of commercial and residential areas. In-filling constricts drainage and eliminates floodwater retention zones, increasing the risk in adjoining areas.

The water has to go somewhere, right? Apparently, it goes here in Da Nang’s Hoa Chau ward. Alongside the rapid urban development, inappropriate and poorly constructed houses are one of the main sources disaster risk in Hoa Chau ward. Providing shelter following a disaster is also one of the largest recurrent costs for governments. In a recent publication we reviewed housing vulnerability and found that improving the design of shelter is central to reducing disaster risk and supporting adaptation to climate change.

Against this backdrop, ISET-International and Hue University hosted the Resilient Housing Design Competition for poor and vulnerable households in Da Nang. This competition is part of a CDKN-funded project called ‘Sheltering from a gathering storm’, which is exploring the economic return and other costs or benefits of investing in climate-adapted, disaster-resilient shelter design with case studies in Vietnam, India and Pakistan.

The design competition assembled a team of professionals and students from local architecture schools to address these issues through innovative housing designs. Participants developed climate-adapted shelter designs that are both technically effective and culturally acceptable; the best-judged design will be the subject of cost-benefit analysis research. They came together in April 2013 to share their creations with a panel of experts.

The panel provided critical feedback, including how to ensure the designs were realistic and practical, and to consider the site selection. We were then whisked away for a group site visit to specific wards throughout Da Nang that experience yearly flooding and typhoons. This gave the students plenty to ponder, and here the stories unfolded.

“My father passed away in the 1990 floods in Hue. That is why I am participating,” shares La Van Son, student at Hue University. I was suddenly thrown into the reality of what we are really trying to do. We are not only here to try and make safer houses, save lives and assets—we are creating a force of inspired young architects that will influence the way we will live in the future with climate change.

Watch the story of these students and their involvement in the competition in this picture display:

First Prize was awarded to Mr. Nguyen Thanh Tung of TT Arch Company. As shown in the picture display, above, his team designed housing for low-income families which can be built with locally available materials and local techniques; they avoided more modern construction techniques which are often applied improperly.

A similar competition for the project’s India case study, centred on the city of Gorakhpur, is currently open and submissions are invited until the deadline of 15th August 2013. The competition seeks to identify alternative, climate-adapted urban housing solutions that provide comfortable living conditions to residents during flooding, water-logging and periods of extreme heat. Architects, engineers and designers (firms, individuals, groups, and students) are invited to participate. Details can be found on the Resilient Housing Design Competition’s India webpage.

Image of conventional house, Da Nang, Vietnam (upper right), courtesy of Chris Goldberg.

[1]ISET–International (2013, April). Da Nang: Typhoon Intensity and Climate Change. Boulder, CO: Sarah Stapleton.

[2]Cu, N. H. (2008). Da Nang’s economic growth is stable or not. Journal of Science and Technology of Da Nang University, Vol. 5, page 125-134.

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