Designing Life after the Storm: Improvisations in Post-Disaster Housing Reconstruction as Socio-Moral Practice

Pamela Gloria Cajilig


If there is any endeavor so demanding of human creativity, it is the remaking of lives and property after disaster. However, post-disaster recovery is considered the greatest failure in disaster management, and within this field, post-disaster housing reconstruction is the most insufficiently investigated practice. Furthermore, studies of disaster management attribute failure to top-down and technocratic approaches that often overlook the agency, capacities, and moral priorities of those directly affected. In contrast, this paper attends to those displaced by disaster as creative and moral agents who manage to carry on with life despite their socio-economic and political vulnerabilities by drawing from theory in anthropology, disaster studies, and cognitive psychology. Through examining how inhabitants of a post-Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) resettlement site transform their housing to negotiate multiple and vague rules and regulations, I entangle myself with literature that assumes that the creativity of design lies in the capacity of individuals to improvise according to their values and in response to those of others, within a world that is continually unfolding. I also assume that improvisation is contingent upon processes of cognitive innovation in which social relations operate as indispensable intellectual resources for grasping and mobilizing knowledge that would give inhabitants of resettlement housing the best possible chance of attaining their hopes, dreams, and ambitions. Consequently, I propose that viewing creativity as an improvisational process highlights the agentic potential of design in even the bleakest and most quotidian of settings. My own hope is to extend the possibilities for correspondence between built environment practitioners and those who, because of their subaltern positionalities, tend to be overlooked by the field of post-disaster housing reconstruction and yet must live through the consequences of its practice.


design; disaster recovery; housing; improvisation; morality

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