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These Giant Glowing Balls Are Designed To Bring Light To The Philippines

Made from native bioluminescent plankton and local debris, these “living balls” give off a little extra brightness for villages recovering from Typhoon Haiyan.

Four months after Typhoon Haiyan decimated entire cities and villages in the Philippines, many areas still don’t have power. To provide some extra light at night and help generate new support for rebuilding at a time when the international community is beginning to forget about the disaster, Filipino-American architect Lira Luis designed the Leapfrog Project–a temporary installation that includes glowing giant green balls.

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“Dimly lit or dark places have become dangerous for women and children at night, particularly in tent cities or refugee camps,” says Luis. She plans to build the installation using debris found on site and fill it with a bioluminescent plankton native to the Philippines that glows naturally when disturbed. Each “living ball,” nine feet in diameter, will be scattered throughout a village.


“It’s a vision of hope and protection, particularly for women that are left vulnerable as a result of the natural disaster,” she explains. “It’s also our visual message to Haiyan survivors that they would not be forgotten. As global emergency help begins to dwindle, the Philippines would become even more desperate in the face of uncertainty and even exploitation.”

The project also questions whether newly rebuilt structures are resilient enough for a country that regularly faces typhoons, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis. “While there is urgency in providing immediate shelter for the Haiyan survivors, it is also equally important to take a step back and rethink our tools. Are we rebuilding the same way as we did before but with simply a different aesthetic?” Luis asks. “How can we rebuild better so when the next extreme weather occurs, the impact would be less severe?”


Ultimately, she hopes installation of glowing balls will help raise money for rebuilding structures like hospitals, schools, and homes. Luis plans to host a workshop in the Philippines this summer to foster designs for 10 new structures as a template for rebuilding Tacloban, with each design focused on sustainability and resiliency. “The natural disaster can be a real opportunity to leapfrog into innovation for sustainable development by skipping inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced ones,” Luis says.

She points to her current home of Chicago as an example of a city that was transformed by disaster. After a fire in the late 1800s destroyed a huge chunk of the city, a new school of architects–including Frank Lloyd Wright–helped turn Chicago into a mecca of architecture. Luis hopes that the aftermath of Haiyan can spur similar new leaps in design, business, and technology in the Philippines. “The Leapfrog Project isn’t just about building stuff,” she says. “It’s about allowing survivors to flourish.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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