Live from Indonesia: 10 Years After the Asian Tsunami

These concrete domes represent foreign aid gone horribly wrong in my opinion. The domes are now black with mold and laced with hundreds or thousands of cracks.
These concrete domes represent foreign aid gone horribly wrong in my opinion. The domes are now black with mold and laced with hundreds or thousands of cracks.

The devastating 2004 Asian tsunami was pivotal in my life. The tsunami occurred while I was working for Builders Without Borders. Intensive research into every conceivable house building method I could find all pointed to the conclusion that earthbag housing is the safest, strongest, lowest cost and most appropriate housing method for disaster prone regions such as Indonesia. Here I am 10 years later visiting the region as part of my tour to promote natural building.

Indonesia is one of the most disaster prone regions in the world. It is vulnerable to both large earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location near where the Australian tectonic plate is subducting beneath Indonesia. Here’s a sampling of news since the Asian 2004 tsunami. An earthquake hit Yogyakarta, Java in 2006 and damaged 200,000 houses. This resulted in $3 billion in damages. A 2006 earthquake and tsunami hit near the resort town of Pangandaran on western Java. A 2009 earthquake hit Padang, Sumatra. Indonesian citizens near Surabaya in February, 2014 had to flee their homes as Mount Kelud erupted, spewing ash and debris as far as 80 miles from the volcano. Mass evacuations began as the volcano in East Java began to erupt. Tens of thousands are displaced from their homes. Billions in foreign aid have poured into the country to aid reconstruction.

Dome homes in Yogyakarta: Images of these sterile, factory-made looking domes pop up repeatedly when researching the redevelopment of the region. In an area of such splendid local architecture, it really pains me to see these ghastly concrete domes. To say they are out of place is a huge understatement. One can go in any direction and see beautiful and more interesting and practical homes — homes built to fit the site and owner’s needs, with individual style and character. For future reconstruction, I feel it’s much better to build homes that people really want to live in.

This is the project our design team came up with shortly after the Asian tsunami: Post-Tsunami Affordable Housing Project


4 thoughts on “Live from Indonesia: 10 Years After the Asian Tsunami”

    • Excellent find, thank you Josh. The domes now look like the worst photos at this link, plus there’s way more black mold now. Maybe these photos are a few years old. No one is talking about this!!!!! There are lots and lots of sites that repost the basic story, but I didn’t find any sites that show the current state of the domes. And by the way, I was shocked when we drove up. They look terrible up close. There’s a big crack along almost every piece of rebar. Once the concrete has broken it’s bond with the rebar then most of the strength is gone. That’s why I said one more quake could make these domes unlivable. Maybe I should do another blog post because most people won’t see this…

  1. I’m going to blog about this topic again tomorrow since it’s so important. For a more representative view of what most houses in Yogyakarta look like, search Yogyakarta house in Google Images.

    Looking at these domes again got me thinking about the glare and heat coming through those windows! No roof insulation, no roof overhang, no awnings in 100 degree F heat = unbearable living conditions. Maybe these domes can be converted into giant ovens after people find better places to live.

  2. My intention was to talk to some of the homeowners to get their opinions about the domes. That didn’t work out, unfortunately. Here’s what happened.

    I checked in at the office first and asked if it was okay to look around a little bit. He motioned towards the inside of his home. Doors and windows were ajar and probably leak badly since there’s no protection from rain. I pointed to a large crack where the interior plastered brick walls were pulling apart. He said “earthquake”. That would explain all the cracks on the domes and the rest of the damage. All of the domes cracked along the lines of rebar reinforcement. Since the concrete is already cracked along the rebar, it seems like one more similar earthquake and the domes will not be livable. So these domes are not as strong as claimed. Plus, there’s no protection from overheating! Geez, Indonesia is near the equator and really hot. Obviously concrete is just soaking up all that heat and trapping it inside. The loft in the office was not being used except to store extra stuff, because it’s probably too hot.

    At this point I’m getting ready to talk to some homeowners when the office guy holds out his hand and says 5,000 or something like that. (Now he wanted money to look around.) I reminded him he had just said I could look around a bit. He wouldn’t back down so I jumped back in the cab and left.

    So are homeowners happy with their domes? I can’t say for sure since I wasn’t going to contribute to their tourist mnoney making scam (no matter how small the amount). My guess is these people accepted the domes because they had no other choice at the time. With the problems of cracking, overheating, leaks and not fitting in with local styles suggests this poorly planned project will not catch on in this area.

    Note: I love domes. I have a dome at my home and sell numerous dome plans. They’re great in the right climate. Just realize that domes evolved in deserts and will experience moisture problems in rainy and snowy climates unless protected with a roof or rain screen.


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