3 Organizations, 8 Volunteers, and 500,000 Damaged Houses: How Autodesk Foundation, Team4Tech, and Build Change are Collaborating on Efficient Earthquake Recovery in Nepal

An estimated 500,000 houses are only partially damaged after the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. That means out of 750,000 houses estimated to be damaged or destroyed, 2/3 of them are still standing but cracked and unsafe for people to use. These homeowners are not in need of newly constructed houses, but an opportunity to save as much of their original house as possible and strengthen it through retrofitting. Retrofitting is an innovative and cost-effective method of seismically strengthening existing houses by strengthening structural elements and stabilizing the current structure, making them earthquake resistant.

An estimated 2.5 million lives would be made safer from future earthquakes if these 500,000 homeowners are aware of and choose the option to retrofit.  Not only would millions of people be safer, but in the process an estimated 30 megatons of construction materials and 1 billion USD in reconstruction costs would be saved as well.

Most houses in rural areas of Nepal have similar layouts and are built using traditional, local materials and methods. Because of this, Build Change has been working with the Government of Nepal to develop and test a specific ‘pre-engineered’ retrofitting type design, applicable for much of the housing in the mountainous country.  The goal is to simplify the retrofitting process, so that it is a more accessible and feasible option for the 500,000 homeowners who could retrofit rather than rebuild.

So, how can we make the process so efficient and accessible that homeowners can’t ignore the possibilities?

With a little help from our friends…

The Autodesk team at a technical support center in Nepal.

In early June 2017, seven representatives from the Autodesk Foundation and one from Team4Tech arrived in Nepal. The 8 of them had some questions to answer to develop a deeper understanding of how communities were affected by the disastrous earthquakes that struck the country in 2015, and how rebuilding efforts were going.

The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. They provide support through grant funding, software, technical training, and industry expertise to grantees in architecture, engineering, product design and manufacturing, visual effects, gaming, and related fields who are creating solutions to environmental and social challenges. The Autodesk Foundation has been working alongside Build Change since 2013, providing suites of software licenses, trainings, grant funding, and remote technical support for a variety of program areas. Now, this team of top technical experts has added to the generosity of Autodesk and the Foundation, leaving their families and lives to travel to Nepal and volunteer their time to aide in the reconstruction efforts.

Team4Tech facilitated this exchange between Autodesk and Build Change. Their mission is to advance the quality of education in developing countries by connecting technology volunteers and solutions with high impact nonprofit organizations. Since 2013, they have connected over 230 volunteers from 18 technology companies to more than 34,000 students and teachers around the world.

Given their extensive expertise and dedication to supporting safer, more efficient construction practices, the team naturally came to Nepal with some questions. How can retrofitting become a more efficient process?

Can designs be improved, so that more homeowners have access to safer retrofitting options? Can we develop tools to safely accelerate the process of field data collection and retrofit design? How can Autodesk technology be leveraged to support this goal?


Innovative technology meets innovative problem solving

Retrofitting is a relatively new approach to safer construction in Nepal, especially in rural areas, which means the design process is often long and time-consuming. Retrofitting a single-family house requires weeks for engineers to go into the field, take measurements, and finish safe, custom designs. Upon hearing the potential of retrofitting for homeowners in Nepal, the Team4Tech and Autodesk volunteers were ready to help Build Change make the process more efficient, without sacrificing safety. The team used the Human Centered Design (HCD) technique, an innovative approach to problem solving which incorporates a human perspective as a part of process. In order to fully understand the situation in earthquake-damaged areas in Nepal, the team first set out to gain firsthand knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of the existing retrofit processes by traveling to communities where homeowners are currently working with Build Change to retrofit their houses. The team traveled to Sindhupalchok district, one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquakes, where they observed and took measurements of ongoing retrofit projects and spoke with community members and engineers advocating for retrofitting. They also conducted a series of HCD workshops, providing tools and exercises for Build Change field staff and others involved in earthquake recovery in the area. The team also tracked and mapped Build Change’s relationship with its stakeholders to identify existing and future opportunities for retrofitting and understand the existing relationships better.


Build Change staff in a Human-Centered Design workshop.

The result of this two-week investigation and collaboration was a tool which is already making the Build Change retrofitting program more effective. The HCD techniques and methods helped the team develop a shared understanding of the day-to-day challenges engineers face both in the field and the office, and what it takes for them to take accurate measurements and create accurate designs. Using this as a base, the team was able to propose a solution: a 3D modeling tool which helps to simplify, accelerate, and ensure quality for the retrofitting design process. This has already helped Build Change raise the profile of retrofitting as viable alternative for reconstruction, and widened the potential support to homeowners. In the future, the goal is to make the retrofitting process and techniques so easy to use that anyone with a basic understanding of construction could use it to generate a retrofit design for their own home.

This collaboration between 3 organizations with separate, yet intersecting, expertise represented a massive growth and development for both team members and earthquake-affected homeowners in Nepal. Organizations such as the Autodesk Foundation and Team4Teach help strengthen our vision of homeowner-driven reconstruction and safer building practices in Nepal and all countries where we work.

We look forward to continuing to share our developments and experience with the 3D modeling tool created by the Autodesk and Team4Tech team. Subscribe to our newsletter or bookmark our blog to stay up to date!

©All photos provided courtesy of the Autodesk Team.