I have just returned to London from an extraordinary field trip to the Maldives with Design Studio 18 (DS18), which I teach with Roberto Bottazzi. Thanks to wonderful, generous colleagues in the Maldives, especially Ghaanim Mohamed at the National University of the Maldives, it was a truly memorable week. The trip was undertaken a few days after the declaration of a one-month long state of emergency by the president of the Maldives, after an apparent assassination attempt on him by the deputy president. Discussion with colleagues suggested that this likely signified a shuffling of power within the ruling party and that the only persons at risk in the process were the politicians themselves. In fact, while we were there, the presence of police or the military on the streets was noticeable by its absence, suggesting that this was the case.
Our first day, 08 November 2015 was spent in the ‘Fluid Archipelago Symposium’ at the University of the Maldives, when a range of speakers gave us first hand expert insights into dynamic processes underway in the Maldives. Speakers included: Mohamed Rasheed, Director in the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure; Mr Abdulla Hafiz, Assistant Meteorologist, Maldives Meteorological Service; Mr Riyaz Jauharee, Director of the Maldives Marine Research Centre; Mr Marouf Jameel, former Minister of Housing and Infrastructure; Dr Abdulla Naseer, former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries; Mr Ahmed Michael. CEO Tennssor Holdings; Mr Ishan Saeed and Mr Adnan Ali, architect and engineer of a Public transport model for the Maldives and Mr Hussein Ziyath of the Hulhumale Development Corporation.
The day began with Mohamed Rasheed’s presentation of the Maldives government’s programme to consolidate the population by relocating people from smaller islands to larger ones, the argument being that, in order to provide modern education and health services to the entire population, economies of scale are required. This is an incentivised, voluntary programme that has been in place since the 1980’s. A speaker later in the day, a former Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, Marouf Jameel, noted that it has reduced the number of inhabited islands from 200 to 188 over that period and can thus be largely considered to be a failed policy. Others refered to it as ethnic cleansing. It is clearly highly contested.
The second speaker was Mr Abdulla Hafiz, assistant meteorologist at the Maldives Meteorological Service, stationed at the Ibrahim Naseer International Airport, which we visited the following day. He informed us how weather and climatic data is collected in the Maldives and what models are used for weather prediction. There are five meteorological stations in the Maldives, all located at airports. Rainfall data is collected at 8 stations, there are 20 automatic weather stations, 1 doppler radar station, 3 tidal stations and, since the 2004 tsunami, 2 seismic stations.
In addition, data is gathered from Indian Satellite INSAT and Chinese Satellite FY-2E. Because of the Maldives location, it is only possible to predict weather accurately for about 3 days. French climate models are used to do this as they have proved more accurate that Indian ones, whose latitudes do not come as far south as the Maldives. The MMS sends certain coded weather data to the global system once every three hours and others once a month. Mr Hafiz decoded one of the three hourly messages for us in a spectacular performance!
The morning session of the symposium ended with Mr Riyaz Jauharee, Director of the Marine Research Centre giving us an overview of the fishing industry in the Maldives, concentrating on the tuna fishery. This goes back to the 14C, in the past mainly using small boats, and concentrated around islands for local consumption. Today it is a commercial fishery, using reef fish caught as live bait in cotton nets, kept alive in bait holds till “chummed” (scattered in the sea) to attract tuna. Tuna are caught using pole and line as they feed on the chummed baitfish. Tuna schools are located by following oceanic sharks, birds associated with tuna schools, or around fish aggregating devices between 15 to 20 miles off shore. Fisherman usually fish for up to a week, or when their provisions run out. They can catch up to 50 tons of fish in a day. Skipjack tuna is the most common fish species caught in this way. Larger yellow fin tuna weighing 80-100 kgs are caught using 100m long hand lines. They are pulled onto deck by hand and then killed by being bludgeoned over the head, gutted on deck in a matter of minutes and put on ice. We were shown a particular gory video of this process by Mr Jauharee. One of the primary impacts of climate change on this industry is likely to be its impact on reef species, on which it relies for bait. Only since 2010 has data begin to be collected on this aspect of the industry. Increased carbon in the ocean may affect the ability of these fish to breath and if coral health is damaged, they too will be affected. In addition, tuna may go deeper should ocean temperatures rise. The repercussions of these factors on fisherman and their families are likely to be huge.
The afternoon session of the symposium began with a presentation by Dr Abdulla Naseer, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries, drawing from his doctoral research on the coral reef systems of the Maldives. These are the least related to Darwin’s theory of the formation of coral reefs as, while confirming his theory of the volcanic origin of coral reefs, their growth is related to wave and wind movement, something Darwin did not entertain. There are four types of coral reefs in the Maldives – fringing reefs, barrier reefs, atoll reefs and coral reef platforms. An atoll is characterised by different components – the reef slope, reef crest, coral and rubble flats, reef lagoon, seagrass beds and vegetated islands. The ocean between the Maldives double chain of atolls is known as the inner sea. Complex atolls have more than two openings in their perimeter, simple atolls have just one opening. South Male Atoll is a complex, open atoll, with many rim and lagoon reefs. Thaa Atoll is a closed, simple one with very few openings.
Dr Naseer’s research, conducted 15 to 20 years go, analysed the morphological structure of atoll reefs using Landsat 7 and Ikanos satellite imagery, that had then just become available.
Through colour analysis of images of Ari Atoll, he showed that western and southern reefs have wider reef slopes and crests than east facing and inner sea facing reefs, as waves always come from the south east.
In lagoons, reef growth is related to number of apertures in atoll rims. Reef morphology therefor appears to be related to wave direction and power.
Following Dr Naseer’s presentation, Ishan Saeed, architect with and urban design degree from UCL, and engineer Adnan Ally presented the public transport model they had developed for former President Nasheed’s government, which has been only partially implemented. Instead of relocation, as presented in the morning, it proposed to enable people to move between islands and atolls more freely and democratise transportation through an integrated transportation system.
In May 2008, the Maldives Democratic party developed a transportation manifesto as part of its election platform. This stressed accessibility and mobility over relocation. Saeed showed a video of this being developed at a grass roots level. At the time, there was no connectivity between islands and atolls other than via private cargo vessels.
Nasheed spoke of ‘Rashu Bandhu’ or Island Captivity as a punishment, where the effort to make a trip becomes a bigger issue than the issue itself. Connectivity was owned by business people and for cargo ships. The manifesto stressed mobility, accessibility, efficiency, safety, equity, sustainability and regeneration. We were shown animated diagrams of Intra atoll connectivity, Intra province connectivity (through an orbiter system), and shuttles.
In this way, small islands were connected to the larger system. They would be developed as three types of nodes, based on the extent of transport and type of exchange they facilitated, from simple platforms to hub type islands and atoll exchanges, provincial interchanges and national interchanges. In this system, the government would act as regulator, business as service provider, with other profit making activities, such as shops at ferry terminals, to make it worth while. The most profitable businesses in the system were the terminal nodes, but businesses wanted resort islands. In this way, resort development was connected to transportation. The government agreed to this to be able to subsidise the transportation system and transportation service agreements were linked with resort island development agreements. Of this proposal, a number of Intra and inter atoll systems have been implemented, but the national system has not.
There are only ferry terminals in the larger islands as no land was allocated for them elsewhere. Thus there are no ferry-landing facilities on most islands.
In a later discussion, Saeed said that people choose to live on islands because of memory, fishing or other reasons. By making connectivity possible, they would be able to see how people live on other islands, and thus have informed choice should relocation be required, for climatic, infrastructural or economic reasons. Relocation and connectivity are not opposing, but interactive planning policies. People should not be either forced to remain on their own islands, nor compelled to relocate, but given the choice.
Ahmed Michael, CEO of Maldivian company Tennssor Holdings, which undertakes dredging, reclamation and coastal protection works then informed us about the methods used in this work.
He discussed the three types of revetment used in the Maldives – geotubes, sheet piling and rock revetments. Geotubes are 4m wide, 1,5m high, 25m long fabric tubes filed with sand, used to contain erosion during storms and are considered temporary (50-60 year life span). They can withstand 1-2m wave heights and are laid to form 1:6 to 1:10 degree slopes for stability. Sheet piling is used where direct ocean access is required to reclaimed land, as in harbour construction. Tennssor is using it for the extension of Addu international airport. It is costly, but can be moved and reused. Rock revetments take the form of gabions or solid rocks, with material imported from India, for which quotas present a major difficulty. In addition procuring the right machinery and labour to do rock revetment installation is difficult, and trained professional are required. Rock revetments can withstand high intensity wave action.
A fourth type of revetment is tetrapods, but these are very expensive and require professional expertise. In the Maldives, they have only been used to protect Male, with aid from Japan. Most steel for revetment work comes from China.
Mauroof Jameel, former Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, and clearly the mentor of the younger architects who spoke or were in the audience, then gave a talk on the history of coral stone architecture.
While this is no longer possible, its history should not be ignored, he argued. There are two types of coral used for construction: Velidaa, which is coral sand stone, a coastal sedimentary formation. It is the more porous kind of coral and not suitable for decorative work; Hiriga porite coral is from the stony coral family; it is boulder like and slow growing and can reach larger than 1m in diameter. Techniques of coral stone construction varied during different historic periods. In the Maldives, it was introduced in the Hindu period, before 1153. During the Medieval Muslim period (1153-1525) coral was set in mortar and finished with lime. There are examples of mosques that used this technique. The early colonial period (1535-1835) is known as the golden time of coral masonary, when a unique technique of coral stone carpentry was developed. Old Friday mosque in Male, built in 1657 is a prime example of this.
From 1835-1965 chipped coral with lime mortar and plaster was used until cement was introduced in 1965.
This brought new building materials like coral sand mortar. In the 1970’s, reinforced coral concrete began using coral as rubble and in the 1990’s reinforced concrete was introduced. The use of coral for building was banned in 1992; in 1988, 14,000 metric tons of coral had been used in Male alone. Coral stone carpentry is unique to the Maldives, but not well documented. To do this, coral was mined and crudely shaped into blocks and dried in the sun. It was transported to site and then shaped and laid in place according to carpentry techniques. It is an indispensible part of Maldives cultural history. Now its aesthetics are being revived by artists and stone structures are being reused. The farming of coral is an emerging trend and could revive coral stone masonry. Can it be reinvented digitally?
The day ended with a presentation by Hussein Ziyath, of the Hulhumale Development Corporation, on the development of Hulhumale, Phases 1 and 2, including a spectacular digital fly through of Phase 2.
The reason for the reclamation was the decongestion of Male, but most residents come from elsewhere in the archipelago. Most of the Maldives has a ‘density’ of 13 people per hectare. Male has a density of 800. Hulhumale was planned with a density of 600 (residential area only), to decongest Male. Its overall density is 300.
The aim is for 160,000 people to live in Hulhumale at the end of Phase 2 (along with Male, this would be 2/3 of the population of the Maldives). 30,000 live there at present.
Both phases are being developed through zonal planning.
“In terms of context, there is not much to relate to.” Hussein Ziyath on Hulhumale.
The masterplanning for Phase 1 was undertaken by the National University of Singapore and the HDC. The World Bank had said that it was not feasible, but the Maldives was loaned $25 million dollars from China’s Exim Bank for the reclamation. It has an institutional spine comprising mosques, schools and preschools, within a 200m walking radius of all residential units. The residential development of Hulhumale Phase 1 will be complete in 2020, of Phase 2 in 2050. 5,000 residential units have been built on Phase 1. The Commercial zone of Phase 1 is still empty. In the Commercial zone, 14 storied buildings will be allowed (6 stories in the residential areas).
Reclamation for Phase 2 is just complete.
It engulfs a former tourist resort (Club med), which is being retained as a “Heritage Island” incubator for arts and crafts.
The development proposes an IT Park, and a Knowledge Park (hoping to attract all major universities); a Business District (emulating Hong Kong and Singapore).
It will have a Marina, to house 300 to 500 tourist boats, cruise ships and liners. Its northern edge is a Tourism Island, separated by a canal, which will accommodate 3,600 rooms in 10 to 12 floored buildings.
It too will have an Institutional Spine and linear storm water reserves in to reuse for greening etc. Given the failure of Hulhumale Phase 1 to attract commercial investment, the plan is to develop the economic centres in Phase 2 first. It will be serviced by a public transport system, including a light rail, and cycling paths, connected to Male. Commercial Buildings will be 20 stories and housing 14 stories.
“These islands are not natural any more” Adnan Aly on Hulhumale.
As Hulhumale had begun when Mr Marouf was Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, it was followed by much discussion, including the relationships between population relocation and transportation, questions of reclamation, coral reef health, sea level rise, heritage, investment and planning. This was continued the following day when we visited Hulhumale.
DS18 of the University of Westminster would like to thank the speakers for their presentations and generosity in sharing expert information about the Maldives, and to Ghaanim Mohamed and his colleagues in the Architecture Department at the National University of the Maldives for hosting this impressive event. I trust that the above is an accurate, albeit highly condensed account of the day and the visit to the Hulhumale Development Corporation’s offices the following day.