Thirteen years ago, Banda Aceh made international headlines when it was devastated by a tsunami on Boxing Day.
In the years since, a multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort has seen many structures rebuilt, but few in keeping with what stood before.
Traditional coastal houses were destroyed, and along with them the records of those buildings. Very few of the people who survived had knowledge of local construction techniques.
Given this, UniSA is leading a project to capture Banda Aceh’s surviving inland built architectural sites, ensuring they are permanently preserved in a digital form.
Under the guidance of lead researcher Dr Julie Nichols, 25 UniSA students travelled to Banda Aceh in July to study various building techniques and the associated experiences, customs and traditions of local people. From this, they produced high quality, measured drawings – in a methodology known VERNADOC (vernacular documentation).
“There are no remaining local records of the way the traditional coastal houses were built except by Europeans living elsewhere,” Dr Nichols says.
“Different structures were rebuilt for the community which changed the way people lived – because new houses were on the ground rather than elevated, they could not live under their houses in the heat of the day as they previously did.
“Our role is to capture the buildings, intrinsic knowledge and the socio-cultural conditions of people’s everyday lives in inland villages to record some of their built cultural heritage in case of future natural disasters. These records may be used to rebuild in traditional ways but probably using modern materials”
Dr Nichols was awarded funding for the trip through the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program, and learned the VERNADOC method while in Thailand.
She says the students had a great time while throwing themselves into a different culture, and had to acclimatise to hot and humid conditions at Lambunot Village whilst endearing themselves to the local community.
“The quality of the hand-crafted and measured pencil and ink drawings of local houses and streetscapes are a testament to the students’ dedication to the recording of this vernacular environment for Aceh’s heritage,” Dr Nichols says.
“It was an exceptional effort on their part, and very rewarding to personally facilitate and participate in the process.”
Student Isobel Pryor says she thoroughly enjoyed her experience, which had a big impact on her personally and professionally.
“It was incredibly valuable to be part of an exercise that is much larger than what we have experienced in previous university subjects,” Isobel says.
“We learnt, rather than being taught, through discussions with peers, observation or through diagrammatic sketches when language became a barrier, and have refined our skills in methodical thinking, accurate detailing, and communication.”
Indonesian universities, Thai colleagues, local and international architects and educators were involved in the documentation work.
Student Ayse Siva Seyhun says it was much more than a study tour, but more a life experience with the opportunity to meet and develop connections with students and graduates of architecture from various cultures.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint what I enjoyed the most, as the entire experience was so incredible, though if I had to choose one aspect, I would say that I enjoyed the ‘inking’ time that we all spent in the studio,” Ayse says.
“This period of the process is where our work began to take shape and where I learnt the most from working alongside the experts of Vernadoc. I am really looking forward to my next Vernadoc experience.”
Dr Nichols also launched the Vernacular Knowledge Research Group (VKRG) in Jakarta, Indonesia on 7 July.
The VKRG is an interdisciplinary team, based at UniSA, who will work together on projects to look at how vernacular knowledge can be recorded, redesigned, rethought and reused for space and objects designed in future.
Six main partners are involved in the initiative including UniSA, Universitas Indonesia, Universitas Syiah Kuala, Universitas Udayana, the Association of Oral Traditions and the Association of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage.