January 25, 2011
by: Lisa Delgado

Event: Sustainable Housing Prototype Exhibition and Fundraising Event for Haiti
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.12.11
Speakers: Noushin Ehsan, AIA — Chair, AIANY Global Dialogue Committee & Principal, 2nd Opinion Design; Norman Shaifer — Member of the Executive Committee, Haitian/American Disaster Relief Committee; Harry Fouché — Chairman, Consortium for Haitian Empowerment; Chris Christmas — Founder, Thinking Blue & Designer/Artist/Entrepreneur; Richard R. Gonzalez, LEED AP — Teaching Fellow, Columbia University; Michele Klode Garoute Michel — Artist; Theodore Liebman, FAIA — Principal, Perkins Eastman; Jim Luce — Founder and CEO, Orphans International Worldwide; Manfred St. Julien — Founder, Future Pace Design
Organizer: AIANY Global Dialogue Committee

Growing Block House; Ti Kwen Paradi; Expandable Home; The Home by Haiti.

Courtesy Haiti Housing Collaborative

The earthquake in Haiti last year provided evidence of the devastating consequences of poorly made architecture. On the one-year anniversary of the quake, a gathering was devoted to raising funds for building housing for Haitians, presenting four design prototypes that are sustainable and inexpensive to build.

Noushin Ehsan, AIA, president of 2nd Opinion Design and chair of the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee, explained how this initiative began. Shortly after the earthquake, she traveled to Port-au-Prince to see the conditions for herself and to figure out how the design committee might best be able to help. (See “Global Dialogues Travels to Haiti,” by Noushin Ehsan, AIA, e-Oculus, 05.18.10.) Since that trip, “I have not been able to let go of this incredible need that is there,” she said. Concerned about the slow pace of rebuilding, she told the committee that “we have to do something, and we have to do something different than everybody else has done.”

She led the formation of a new subcommittee, Haiti Housing Collaborative, which issued a call for temporary-to-permanent housing designs. The brief was to design rural housing that Haitians can build themselves, is inexpensive, and employs vernacular materials and styles. Unlike a conventional competition, a jury reviewed approximately 150 submissions from around the world, and chose 12 of the most promising designs. Those designers were then invited to a charrette at the Center for Architecture on 01.08.11 when the designers and jurors collaborated to determine four final designs, combining the best ideas out of the original 12.

New housing in the four designs will be built with funding from donors, and Haitians will be trained in the construction techniques. Each house will cost around $1,000 to $5,000 to construct, including the cost of the local labor, Ehsan said. Manfred St. Julien, founder of Future Pace Design and a member of the Haiti Housing Collaborative subcommittee, explained some logistics of the initiative. “Every penny we collect in this effort, 100% goes to these homes and these communities,” he said, adding that the process will be kept transparent through information posted at http://www.haitihousingcollaborative.org/.

Richard R. Gonzalez, LEED AP, one of the jurors, presented the four designs. Many feature the use of bamboo and gabions of recycled rubble for the foundations, as materials available locally. The designs offer an array of strategies for promoting a sense of community while offering privacy to individual households. In one design, for example, private spaces for individual families surround common spaces such as a semi-enclosed living room and a kitchen. This has the effect of “reinforcing the idea of the Haitian household, that it’s not just one family. It could be multiple families living within these units,” Gonzalez explained. In another design, houses (which are expandable if a family grows over time) surround a central quad with a vegetable garden.

Harry Fouché, chairman of the Consortium for Haitian Empowerment (a coalition of organizations working to better the conditions of Haitians), praised the practicality and simplicity of the designs. “They are not complicated construction,” he said. “They can be done; they can be replicated throughout the island…. What you’re doing here, it can and will help us move forward.”

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for Oculus, The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Blueprint, and Wired, among other publications.


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