Students Help to Build a Future for Tsunami Victims

3 October 2006

Faculty of Architecture Hosts Banda Aceh Design Studio

On Boxing Day morning in 2004 Chyntia Aryani was at her family home near the harbour in Banda Aceh, a small city on the north-western tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

It was a Sunday morning, but the suburbs were fuller than usual with visitors in town for the holidays. "At 8am, we felt the earth quake", Aryani says. "Fifteen minutes later the wave came. Everyone ran, it was really crowded and no-one had any idea what was happening."

The Tsunami killed both her parents and destroyed her home. "I lost half of my memory there," says Aryani, who has lived in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province, since she was a child. Aryani now lives with her two brothers and two sisters in a home further inland, near Syiah Kuala University, where she studies architecture.

Aryani is speaking to Uni News in the forecourt of the University of Sydney's Architecture Faculty. Three of her fellow architecture students from Syiah Kuala, and a handful of final year architecture students from the University of Sydney, are scattered on the chairs around her.

The have just come from an intensive design studio class where they have been pouring over walls which are covered in plans for dormitories, small shared houses, clinics, mosques and sports fields. They are all draft designs for a Rotary Youth Centre (RYC) that will be built some 8km from Banda Aceh, on what is now a large rice field.

The RYC will eventually accommodate 500 university students, and include a small village for orphaned children (called "Gampong Anak"), along with a variety of community facilities such as a medical centre and a range of spaces for students to socialise, cook and study.

The project will go a small way to rebuilding Aceh, the district which bore the brunt of the Tsunami's devastation, and where hundreds of thousands either perished or were displaced. Schools were destroyed, teachers went missing and thousands of children were orphaned.

As the Australian students present their ideas for the village in the studio workshop, the Indonesian students fill them in about the appropriate shapes for roofs in that part of Indonesia, the right orientation to ensure a mosque faces Mecca, and the need to keep male and female bedrooms separate.

"I wasn't too sure how it would work, but everyone's been really happy to speak up and learn from eachother," says Dr Peter Armstrong, a lecturer from the Architecture Faculty who is overseeing the project. Armstrong has been involved for nearly a decade in aid and reconstruction projects in South-East Asia, including schools in Cambodia and other projects in Laos and Timor. Getting students involved in real-life projects such as this one is a great "teaching vehicle", he says.

The project was initiated by the Turramurra Rotary Club, which chose a design by final year University of Sydney architecture student Nicole Bowller to be the site's masterplan. Her plan extends the single natural water channel through the site by creating a circular series of canals that would diffuse any sudden rush of water.

"I designed it so the impact of a [future] Tsunami would be lessened. Using the soil that I dug from the waterways as landfill also means I can put the buildings on higher levels so they can be protected, without having to bring in expensive in-fill."

Rotary has so far raised over $1 million towards the project. It has also sponsored the students' visit to Australia - in between working on the plans for the Youth Centre and sitting in on design lectures at the University, Rotary representatives have been showing them Canberra, the Blue Mountains and (of course) the Sydney Opera House.

"Everyday we learn something different about how people live here, how they study and learn architecture," says Aryani's friend Vida Asrina. She is impressed with the household recycling here: "we all throw everything in the rubbish together," she says, However she thinks Indonesian buildings have the edge when it comes to disabled access.

Aryani, who now lives with her four brothers and sisters near her University in Banda Aceh, says she hopes she will be able to work on the centre when she returns home and graduates. She'd also like to see it become not just a home for Indonesian students, but for students from other countries who want to experience her culture.

The ship above was dumped five kilometres inland after floating over the Mosque.