10 lessons for designers working after disasters – Barnaby Bennett

Dec 9, 2020

10 lessons for designers working after disasters


– Barnaby Bennet, 2020

Barnaby is a friend and colleague of Gap Filler who wrote his PhD thesis (UTS Sydney) on the post-quake wave of public and temporary architecture in Christchurch. Barnaby is a writer, activist, architect, creative soul who isn’t afraid of critiquing the politics of city-making. Barnaby was involved in a number of post-quake creative projects in Christchurch as an organiser, writer, hammer-swinger, dancer, provocateur and more! This piece is republished with Barnaby’s permission and taken from Parlour.

Here, Barnaby looks at his experiences from working around the world in post-disaster contexts and makes 10 recommendations for how to do this challenging work well. His advice to listen to locals and to value and empower community leaders strongly resonates with us. Also his call for everyone to read Rebecca Solinit’s A Paradise Built in Hell is sage advice. It’s a book we have returned to time and time again and recommended to many-a student, especially for it’s discussion of elite panic and celebration of the wonderful human spirit that leads to caring, community repossess where people take care of one another. In a disaster, there are many people who want to DO something to make themselves feel better. It’s a human responses to feeling powerless. One of the most important things however, is to make sure you understand who the doing is helping. Is it just to make yourselves feel better? And is that OK? Or is it actually helping someone/something else? This resonates with Barnaby’s first point. Be careful.

He writes: “Working as a designer in post-disaster communities is complex and inherently risky, but it can be immensely rewarding. Each disaster is different. Each place and its communities are unique, and so it is difficult and perhaps even a little dangerous to suggest any firm rules of engagement. But it’s also important to learn lessons from the mistakes of others. So here are ten tips I’ve garnered from reading extensively around the topic and from my own experiences and mistakes.”

Read the rest of Barnaby’s article on Parlour here.