It wasn't until the mid-twentieth century that traditional building and landscape infrastructure in the small towns and villages of the Pacific islands began to be replaced by concrete and steel structures. Cyclones are a natural, regular part of Pacific life. The coastal settlements were easily replaced after devastation because the forests, thriving on regular disturbance, were vigorous and provided the poles and leaves for houses, and food for families. Crops such as taro, coconut and pineapple were replanted and life went on. 

These days, however, medical centers, shops, government buildings and residences are built from materials that are not easily replaced. A recent cyclone in Nuie required $6 million in aid to rebuild its small capital Alofi after Cyclone Heta swept through.

Many visits with landscape architecture students to many different Pacific islands, have shown us that the forests recover much more quickly than the modern settlements. We therefore devised a landscape-driven settlement design strategy that was patterned on the invisible rules of emergence and open systems design. 

Using Netlogo, a 3D modeling platform, we modeled cyclone and tidal wave disturbance and subsequent patterns of forest recovery. The results were used to develop designs for low-key coastal villages and ecotourism resorts.

[With Jacqueline Margetts and Nikolay Popov]