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Post-Tsunami Boat Piers



The built project includes 2 piers, one on either side of the river Uppanaru, at Poondiyakuppam and Lenin Nagar. The high school aged children of the villages of Thiagavalli, Ambedkar Nagar, Lenin Nagar and Periyar Nagar attend Poondiyakuppam High School, a government welfare school, in Poondiyakuppam village across the river. These children had the option of using a government bus to reach their school. However due to long waits, infrequent service and a circuitous bus ride, the children generally chose to wade across the river with their bags on their heads. During high tide or inclement weather, the children sometimes tossed their bags into the river to swim to get home or to safety. To ensure the safety of their children, and to encourage their pursuit of education, the villagers requested LEAD and Architecture for Humanity for a boat and piers on either side of the river.

A private donor gifted a boat to the communities. A boat operator was hired jointly by the communities. Land at Lenin Nagar and at Poondiykuppam, belonging to Tamil Nadu State, available for projects of communal benefit, was identified and obtained by the community. 2 piers, each complete with a waiting platform, and multi-level boarding platforms to accommodate the varying tide levels, were then designed and funded by Architecture for Humanity and built in partnership with LEAD.

The piers are being actively used by the community to embark the boat, as a place to hang out, and also as a diving platform by the local youth. At times, it has the vibrant feeling of a public pool.

A very exuberant opening ceremony took place on May 10, 2008. Traditional Panchayat leaders and elected leaders from the 5 local beneficiary villages were present with the Tamil Nadu Assistant Project Officer for Rural projects acting as the chief guest.


The project was not executed per the final approved design. Listed below are some of the challenges faced:

1. Inadequate understanding of design concept by building team

2. Poor communications, partially due to lack of common language, between engineer/ building team and architect. Major on-site decisions impacting design were made by the engineer/building team without consultation with architect.

3. The pile foundations for the platforms were mis-located, resulting in deviation from design intent. Re-locating the piles was not an option as it was cost prohitive.

4. Eucalyptus posts supporting platform formwork were inadequate, resulting in concrete sagging. The supporting posts eventually floated away during heavy rainfall and flooding, causing materials loss and delays.

5. The east pier platforms were not constructed at the elevation levels intended.

6. General quality of construction is not up the desirable standards, and can be partially attributed to remote site location.

7. Weather related delays were experienced.

8. Simultaneous government road construction project adjacent to west pier caused delays due to restriction of vehicular access.

9. Frequent site visits to ensure accuracy and quality in construction were not feasible due the site’s remote location (4-5 hours from Chennai). Also, as construction here can progress very slowly, it can be drain on the budget to visit the site too often.

The piers are being actively used and appreciated by the communities, rendering insignificant the design deviations and delays.


The structure includes 2 piers, one on either side of the river Uppanaru, at Poondiyakuppam and Lenin Nagar. Each pier comprises of a waiting platform 3.5mX5m, and 3m wide multi-level boarding platforms. The levels allow for boarding the boats despite varying tide levels. The structure comprises of RCC (reinforced cement concrete) piles, RCC beams and RCC slabs. On each pier, also existed a shade structure, built with eucalyptus posts and coconut leaf thatch. However these were anonymously burnt down, one prior to the opening ceremony and one the day after.


(Reported by LEAD) The boat and piers were planned for dalit communities who are living along the estuary. This marginalized community belong to the "scheduled caste" which was oppressed for a long time. This group of people escaped the attention of government machinery when rehabilitation measures were planned for tsunami affected. However rehabilitation reached them only when they became visible and NGOs had brought them out as second line tsunami survivors.

Pupils, workers and other village people use the piers and boat regularly . Totally 33 pupils from Ambedkar Nagar (21 girls and 11 boys) . Occasionally 12more (8 boys and 4 girls) pupils use the boat, if they had missed their bus. From Lenin Nagar, 20 (10 boys and 10 girls) pupils regularly and 13(7 boys and 6 girls) occassionally use the boats regularly. In Periyar Nagar, 26 (17boys , 9 girls) pupils regularly and 22 (13boys, 9 girls) occasionally use the boat. The children are in the age group of 11-17 years and all of them are dalits.

With reference to working community 50 workers ( 35 male, 15 female) use the boat regularly to reach Cuddalore from Ambedkar Nagar. 20 workers in Lenin Nagar and 37 workers (all are men) from Periyar Nagar use the boat regularly. They are in the age group around 30 and all of them belong to dalit community and every day they earn Rs.120 per day. The workers thus save the money by taking the boat. With reference to village community 42 people from Ambedkar Nagar, Periyar Nagar ad Lenin nagar use the boat and pier facility regularly. The pier and the boat had linked the marginalised dalit community with the mainstream society.

A community from all the three hamlets maintains the boat and the boat man regularly.


The initial design by Rebecca Celis and Malea Jochim called for 2 symmetrical wooden piers, each with a children-friendly waiting platform and a boarding platform. The design included randomly located eucalyptus posts on the boarding platform, some supporting the roof, and some for a playful effect, echoing the adjacent eucalyptus plantation. The boarding platform comprised of a wood deck over metal drums, allowing the platform to float above the water, adjusting to the tide levels. A brick wall, patterned with regularly spaced openings, was located on the outer edge parallel to the river, defining the spatial limits. Above, a thatch roof provided protection from the natural elements. The wood decks and floating drum construction was considered, however, they had to be eliminated in the final design for reasons of practicality, higher associated costs and concerns based upon prior experiences that future repairs and maintenance would be neglected with use of uncommon materials. Pre-cast slab was briefly considered but it proved to not be cost efficient. The brick walls were eliminated as they were positioned where the natural entrances to the piers are. A shade structure using eucalyptus posts and coconut leaf thatch was built at each pier, using a hip roof design instead of a single pitched roof, with consideration to the strong winds and uplift. (However the shade structures were anonymously burnt down perhaps due to in-fighting among some community members. Architecture for Humanity is, at present, donating an additional $450.00 and the communities are contributing $100.00 toward replacing the burnt down shade structures with permanent ones, each with 4 corner metal posts and a polycarbonate or metal sheet roof. The communities have assumed the responsibility to design and build them.)

The final revised and approved design included a rectangular waiting platform and boarding platforms designed to allow maximum use of the pier. The boarding platforms were split into 3 levels allowing passengers to conveniently and safely embark and disembark the boat despite the varying water levels. Additionally, the boarding platform was designed to be curved to allow convenient approach and departure of the boat. As an additional design detail, the 2 boarding platforms across the river were to form an “S” shape should an invisible line be drawn connecting the 2. However, as previously mentioned, the final execution was not per the drawings.


(Reported by LEAD) Pupils enjoy the boat ride to schools as they are able to reach school in time and they are happy that there is no more punishment due to late reporting to school. They do not wait for the bus. No more miserable situation of losing books and getting their books wet. With reference to the working community, after the boat, the income has increased. Previously when they missed the bus service they did not go to the other side for work. ‘The boat has become a helping hand’ for us. The community feels that the boat and the pier helps them to attend to emergencies like sickness and accident. ‘To us the boat is a life saver’ , say the community

Mr.Devarajan, a panchayat ward member of Ambedkar Nagar, Periyar Nagar, and Lenin Nagar said that the boat service has benefitted every one in the community. For children it is a lot of fun. At times the boat is a life saver too.


Rebecca Celis and Malea Jochim, students at University of Minnesota, Spring 2007

Community Members:

Mr.Rayappan, Lenin Nagar

Mr.Radha Krishnan, Periyar Nagar

Mr.Vasudevan, Leader, Ambedkar Nagar

Mr.Devanathan, Elected President, Ambedkar Nagar

Mr.Ravishankar, Elected President, Poondiyankuppam

(Reported by LEAD) The opening ceremony of the Pier sites was celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm by the community. Community from both sides of the piers with leaders belonging to upper caste also participated in a meeting. The Project Officer, DRDA’s participation conveys the appreciation on the part of the establishment towards this intervention.


Lenin Nagar and Poondiyakuppam, Tamil Nadu


Project Details

NAME: Post-Tsunami Boat Piers
PROJECT LEAD: Purnima McCutcheon, Architecture for Humanity
LOCATION: Lenin Nagar and Poondiyakuppam, Tamil Nadu, India
START DATE: August 02, 2007
CURRENT PHASE: Construction complete
COST: $2500 USD (Estimated)
SIZE: 30 sq. m
PROJECT TYPE: Water Delivery
ENGINEERING: Alpha Associates
STUDENT: Malea Jochim
DESIGN TEAM: Purnima McCutcheon, Architecture for Humanity, Rebecca Celis, University of Minnesota, Malea Jochim
STUDENT: Rebecca Celis
SITE ARCHITECT: Purnima McCutcheon
ADDITIONAL SUPPORT: University of Minnesota