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Learning from a humble point

IN the aftermath of a natural disaster, architects play an important role in designing shelter for victims and, more importantly, rebuilding the local infrastructure.

With a passion in disaster relief architecture, Siti Nurafaf Ismail, 21, had recently embarked on a one-month solo trip to Lombok, Indonesia, early this year.

Funded by Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM), the Universiti Malaya (UM) student wanted to study the rebuilding process after a series of earthquakes struck the island last year.

After documenting her findings in Lombok, she started planning an extended research in Hokkaido, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan. Both cities were also struck by earthquakes in September and October, respectively, last year.

The 21-year-old’s impressive proposal, entitled “Architecture of Humility”, had recently won her the prestigious 2019 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship.

She was the sole recipient and Lord Norman Foster, the patron, said: “One submission stood out for its clear focus and objectives. Everything from budget to choice of location in Siti Nurafaf Ismail’s project was well-researched.”

The £7,000 (RM36,428) scholarship will allow Siti Nurafaf to continue documenting the rebuilding process in Hokkaido and Karachi.

After finishing school, Siti Nurafaf attended numerous architecture talks, one of which she met her mentor — renowned architect Jimmy Lim Cheok Siang — who coined the term “Architecture of Humility”.

In her proposal, Siti Nurafaf wrote: “(The term) is based on Jimmy Lim’s views against architects and their predisposition to riot against mother nature in the built environment. When mother nature strikes in the form of natural disaster, there’s nothing more humbling than losing everything overnight.

“The community often takes matters in their own hands to rebuild their homes and, subsequently, their lives.”

Growing up, Siti Nurafaf had explored many interests before deciding that architecture was her true calling. Born in Alor Star, Kedah, her father once told her when she was 6 that she could be an architect after visiting the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

Raised in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, the student was thankful to her alma mater, SMK (P) Sri Aman, for providing her with many opportunities.

“I joined St John Ambulance Malaysia to see whether I could do medicine. My team won the top prize in the nationals but the learning process didn’t evoke my curiosity.

“I ventured into business with the Young Entrepreneurs’ Club. I also joined the debate team to see if I could study Law. These experiences were enjoyable, but nothing came close to architecture.

“Then I realised I enjoyed designing and talking to people.”

As a St Johns Ambulance Malaysia member, Siti Nurafaf was moved to do more for society while helping to pack donated items for victims of the 2014 Kelantan floods.

“I felt that wasn’t enough. So I did research on what could be done to help people affected by crisis.

“I understand that natural disasters are beyond control, and we can’t stop them. But what we can do is to adapt,” said the student, who gained her ideas from disaster relief architecture practised in Japan and the United States.

After scoring 10As in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, Siti Nurafaf went on to do her matriculation at Kolej Matrikulasi Perak, where she scored a CGPA of 4.00. Upon completing her first year at UM last year, Siti Nuraraf did a two-month internship at Jimmy Lim Design — her second attachment with the firm.

“It was after the internship that I received the Pertubuhan Arkitek Malaysia (PAM) Travel Scholarship Award 2018, which funded my visit to Lombok.

“We have to design everything ourselves, from the budget to the schedule. Initially, I only wanted to look at post-earthquake architecture.

“But after meeting my adviser, Dr Muhammad Azzam Ismail, he said there was more potential and I should look into post-earthquake community architecture.

“I realised that natural disaster architecture can be very different from what we learnt in the studio.”

Siti Nurafaf was amazed when she saw traditional buildings were still intact following the earthquake in Lombok.

“I went to four districts — Desa Jeringo, Desa Tanjung, Desa Sade and Gili Air. Interestingly, the buildings in those areas that were designed using traditional architecture survived while modern concrete ones were destroyed.

“So, what everybody started doing right after the quake was building back traditional houses.”

The first thing Siti Nurafaf did as soon as she arrived at a village was to draw a map or architecture plan.

“I did it slowly, by going round the villages and sketching in my notebook. Then, I used the AutoCAD software to draw my design. After printing it, the locals and I would gather under a berugak, or gazebo, to look over the map together.”

Adding that the learning curve was very steep, she said: “As I just finished my first year, I didn’t have the experience to tell them what to do, what to design, or what they’re doing wrong.

“All I could do was to document what I saw. I took photographs and videos, and interviewed people there. I asked them about the problems they faced.

“Other questions included where and how did they start the rebuilding process? Do they have a system to rebuild the houses?

“What’s interesting in the reconstruction process was that there were no architects involved,” said Siti Nurafaf.

She said she was impressed by the unique designs of each traditional house.

“The problem with post-natural disaster architecture is that architects, engineers and developers will design temporary houses in the studio.

“They come up with one portable house that can be used instantly. The materials are packed flat and shipped to victims. It works, but I believe that’s not ideal.

“How many people are there living in a house? Does it include children or the elderly?

“All those need to be taken into account when helping the Lombok people,” said Siti Nurafaf, adding that the villagers also wanted to contribute to the design of their homes.

Next month, Siti Nurafaf will be heading to Hokkaido for the second phase of her research, before carrying out the final phase in Karachi in December. She would be spending two months at each location.

Planning to work with the Japanese Volunteer Architects Network (VAN) and the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, Siti Nurafaf had drafted a very detailed budget.

“Transport and logistics make up the bulk of my budget. This excludes equipment which I’m buying on my own. The fourth district I visited in Lombok was situated uphill, so it was hard to draw a map. I’m planning to get a drone and suitable equipment for my upcoming travels.”

Siti Nurafaf also hoped to meet two prominent architects, Shigeru Ban in Japan and Yasmeen Lari in Pakistan.

“My main purpose and priority is to conduct the research individually. But it is a huge bonus if I get to meet the world-renowned architects. I will be very grateful to get a chance to shadow them.”

Despite having researched on the architecture in Hokkaido and Karachi, Siti Nurafaf expected her experience to be different from what she read in books.

“I believe if you don’t go there yourself, you don’t see the place on your own. And if you don’t draw the maps yourself, you would not know what it’s like.

“It’s all about the communities. You cannot understand the whole story if you’re not there. That’s what I believe.”

Sumber diperolehi daripada The New Strait Times

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