We are the second group of six graduate students and a faculty member from the University of Minnesota to travel to Haiti to work with Architecture for Humanity. The first group came in Spring 2011 and documented their experiences here. Now, in Spring 2012, we will track our work here as well, beginning with our arrival on March 19 through our departure on May 8. If you have any questions or comments, please submit them below.
The time has come to say goodbye. Five members of the UMinns (as we have lovingly been referred to for the last 8 weeks) will be heading back to the US tomorrow. Angela, Danica, Jim, Jessica and John will leave Niko and I (Kristen) tomorrow as they head on to new adventures. While we all have expressed interest in staying, as we’ve all experienced the inspirational work done at the AFH office, obligations and hearts call some to return home now.
On our first day at the AfH office in Petionville, we presented short portfolios, elaborated on why we are here and explained what we wanted to get out of our time in Haiti. I said I wanted to come face to face with construction and design. My interest in the pragmatism of construction is what guided me towards architecture school and I felt this ambitious program was an excellent opportunity to combine the necessity of thoughtful design with results based decision making. As it turns out, I got what I asked for.
At 6pm last Friday, we met with the contractor from JB Immobilier to present the construction drawings for the composting toilet building at Baptiste Bon Berger in Cite Soleil. That set of drawings has been an immense challenge. It’s the third design for the toilet building, there was intense pressure from the project’s funders and AfH to hasten development and Burt, the project lead, had been out of town for 10 days during the most intense days of production. Here’s a quick rendering of the building:
Final Open Office
This last week we’ve been busy wrapping things up as most of us approach our departure date. Friday was our final open office, and our chance to present everything we’ve been working on, so Angela and I put together a slideshow.
Haiti’s Latin neighbor: Santo Domingo
Regular readers may have noticed a gap in recent reportage; spotty internet at AfH house is partly to blame, but the main reason was our weekend trip to the Dominican Republic.
While Haiti occupies about 1/3 of the island of Hispaniola, the DR makes up the rest. The two have similar size populations, but the combination of twice the land area and years under an environmentally conscious dictator make the DR far more pleasant to live in. Later colonial influence also left Santo Domingo with a beautiful old town, which attracts many tourists (ourselves included) not a common sight, even in the relative prosperity of our current home of Petionville.
inspiring and depressing
Tuesday marked the first day of our last week in Haiti as a class. As a part of our seminar series and as a means of reflection on what we have seen and done, Darren Gill (the fearless leader of AFH in Haiti) spoke to us about his understanding of Haiti and the role of AFH here. This may have been an appropriate discussion for our first week in Haiti, but looking back none of us were prepared to understand the complexity of it without witnessing it first-hand.
Villa Rosa Infrastructure
Progress has continued on the Villa Rosa Infrastructure, the work is based on a Micro Plan developed by the Villa Rosa team a few months ago. We have been focusing on improving the pathways and drainage in a small section of Villa Rosa. Our first week in Haiti Niko and I attended a community planning meeting to establish the location of the first path. Residents marked out the boundaries of the path and community spaces using spray paint and rope. Five weeks later and many community approved revisions we have completed the first set of drawings and construction will be beginning soon.
Haiti Property Law
Yesterday night marked our second seminar, led by Frederique Siegel of the Villa Rosa team. At AfH she leads the community engagement side by day, but she is also a member of the Haiti Property Law Working Group, a coalition of interested parties that are working to improve Haitian property law. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly excited to hear about property law for an hour, but in Haitiit’s actually quite interesting and very important to even thinking about building there. To begin with, Frederique gave us a pop quiz: how many buildings have clear title in Port-au-Prince(the capital)? The answer is only 32%. This means that almost 70%, or about $5.2 billion of property there could be illegitimate – leading to all kinds of problems from legal disputes to missed taxes to investment risk.
Here is an example of official land title:
learning on the job
At this point in our adventure here in Haiti, we should not be surprised when things don’t go as planned.
Yesterday was our first presentation to the sisters and administration of CIM (College Coeur Immacule de Marie) and we proposed a master plan and phasing process. It consisted of 20 classrooms, a kitchen, multi-purpose space, toilet block, labs and administrative offices to services upward of 800 students.
Presentation boards in hand, we were eager to hear their feedback on all we had been working on. But upon stepping through the perimeter gate, we knew everything we had just done would have to change. Not too far to our left was a brand new 10 foot wall cutting the site in half. No one had bothered to mention to us that a wall was going to separate the nuns from the school with almost equal distribution. In the two weeks since our last visit, it was decided upon and erected.
We presented our ideas regardless and found ourselves re-negotiating the program. It was a reminder of how things progress here: three steps forward, two steps back. Understanding the changes in program and perimeter we returned to design table.
The following night we attended a fascinating seminar on Land Tenure and Property Law that further enforced the need for development in Haiti while explaining some of the challenges that make it so difficult here.
Villa Rosa Community Center
As Villa Rosa continues to recover, grow and densify, space gets eaten up by houses and businesses. Room for playing, socializing even walking is limited. Paths disappear as a family claims a plot of land for their house and kids are left with the stairways to play on.
For the last week I have been beginning the design for a community center. But like all of Villa Rosa, this process began with the input of the community. In a community engagement session a group of was asked to identify the program for the space by assessing current risks and needs. And that they did—complete with classrooms, a library, playground, café, clinic, cinema, soccer field, green space and latrines and shower house.
With this lofty list of wants, the project was handed off to me to analyze program and adjacencies. All wants are not needs of course and some needs are beyond our scope. We want to design a building that incorporates current needs and address known risks in Villa Rosa; ultimately giving the people there a building that they can be proud of. And of course give them at least a small area where people can learn, children can play and plans for improving the neighborhood can continue to be realized.
Bubble diagrams, trace, and precedents galore, before we leave Niko, Jessica and I will produce a vision document. AfH will then present this to funders in hopes of procuring the money to make in happen.