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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tsunami Museum, Aceh, Indonesia

Aceh Tsunami Museum offers tribute to victims and survivors

The controversial Tsunami Museum in Aceh, Indonesia, will come to represent a fitting place for reflection but at its opening last week a row over the 700 families still to be re-housed overshadowed the event. Accusations of misplaced priorities over the locals left homeless after the Tsunami of 2004 were triggered by the investment of millions of dollars in a monument rather than housing, but now the Tsunami Museum in Aceh is complete it presents an opportunity for closure and a chance to move on.

Designed by local Indonesian architect Ridwan Kamil, the 2,500 m2 four-storey structure serves as a lasting tribute to the 230,000 killed by one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history, some two thirds of whom resided in the Aceh province. With many local people still in need of proper accommodation, the architect has taken care to ensure that the building acknowledges both the victims, whose names are to be inscribed on the wall of one of the museum’s internal chambers, and the surviving members of the local community.

As such, in addition to its role as a memorial for those who died, the museum also offers a place of refuge from future such events, including an “escape hill” for visitors to run to in the event of another tsunami. The museum walls are adorned with images of people performing the Saman or “Thousand Hands” dance, a symbolic gesture dedicated to the strength, discipline and religious beliefs of the Acehnese people.

The design concept draws inspiration in part from the traditional Aceh “house on stilts” structure, a common feature of local housing designed to combat flooding, and the ground floor of the building is an open space that allows public interaction whilst serving as a thoroughfare for flood water to pass through, minimising the risk of structural damage. Aside from the practical benefits, this feature is an architectural expression of local wisdom and a further acknowledgement of the Acehnese community.

Exhibitions at the museum include an electronic simulation of the Indian Ocean earthquake that triggered the 30-foot high waves, in addition to photographs of victims and exhibits featuring stories from survivors of the disaster.
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