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“The way to address Haiti’s particular set of problems is with less architectural magic and more garden-variety diligence.”
For Build Change, Habitat for Humanity and others, low-tech, locally-driven solutions are the best way forward in Haiti.
Excerpt below from Rebuilding Haiti: Local people, using local materials, may be the best solution for the ravaged country. Read the full article by Karrie Jacobs at METROPOLISMAG.COM.
Every day brings another bright idea. The Bay Area architect Joseph Bellomo thinks a tube-shaped, steel-framed modular building he’d originally dreamed up as a studio for a client in Hawaii could be adapted for Haitian needs. The Orlando, Florida, hotelier Harris Rosen wants to send cute little steel-framed prefabricated sheds to Haiti. And Andrés Duany is promoting a modular, flat-pack, fiber-composite bunkhouse, a transitional shelter that can be expanded into a permanent home. (InnoVida Holdings, a Miami-based company, plans to donate a thousand of them.) There is no end to the innovative solutions that could, in theory, help relieve the suffering of the million-plus homeless Haitians, many of whom are currently making do with rudimentary shelter, often little more than plastic sheeting draped over sticks.
In a recent online debate that asked, “Is it OK to run architectural competitions for Haiti?” Cameron Sinclair, of all people, said no. Sinclair, you’ll recall, put Architecture for Humanity on the map by sponsoring ideas competitions in response to catastrophes, and has been a standard bearer for the appealing notion that the world’s worst problems have architectural solutions. But maybe not now. “At a time when needs are of an immediate nature,” Sinclair wrote on Building Design’s Web site, “unproven concepts can be inappropriate and a distraction to the task at hand.”
He might have a point. As you may recall from New Orleans, the bright ideas, though exciting and inspirational, didn’t wind up housing more than a handful of people. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right, for example, boasts about a dozen completed houses so far. The situation in Haiti is, of course, far worse. Even before the earthquake, 80 percent of the population was living in dire poverty, often on less than two dollars a day, in concrete houses that were intended, through sheer bulk, to be hurricane resistant. Sadly, unreinforced concrete is not what engineers call “ductile,” and in earthquakes it crumbles. “One of the things that really killed a lot of people were these very thick, heavy concrete slabs that they use as roofing,” Mario Flores, a civil engineer and the director of disaster response for Habitat for Humanity’s field operations, says a few days after his return from the stricken country.
An initial reconnaissance report on the disaster, written by the Bay Area engineers Eduardo Fierro and Cynthia Perry, notes, “The most striking aspect of the Haitian earthquake is the complete absence of seismic detailing in Haitian construction, from informal housing to recent multi-story buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince.” But although much of the death toll can be pinned on badly built masonry structures, Fierro and Perry conclude that a type of low-cost construction called “confined masonry” is also the solution. “Seismic resistant” structures, they maintain, “can be built utilizing the same concrete, steel, and concrete block used in Haiti.”
The way to address Haiti’s particular set of problems is with less architectural magic and more garden-variety diligence. And that diligence can be taught. At least that’s the underlying premise of Build Change, a nonprofit that worked in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, in Sumatra after the 2007 earthquake, and in China after the 2008 earthquake. Careful seismic engineering can be broken down into simple rules that can be followed at relatively low cost. The organization, founded by the UC Berkeley–educated engineer Elizabeth Hausler, comes up with a seismically engineered house plan based on the local architectural vernacular. “People are already using materials and techniques that can be earthquake resistant, but there are some small changes that need to be made in order to make a house so that it’s not going to collapse,” says Hausler, who visited Haiti in late February.