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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
This week, Angela and I have been working on a master plan for the CIM campus. It’s a school of 850 students ranging from 1st-13th grade (their school system is a bit different than ours) and most of the campus collapsed during the earthquake. Here’s a google map image of the site before. Three story buildings fill the site. On the south end, you can see the reddish-roof of a historical Gingerbread house that the sisters saved up to buy and took possession of 4 days before the quake.
Ecole Baptiste Bon Berger is a school located within the dense urban landscape of Cite Soleil. It is a private institution serving 1200 students with 36 teachers. The earthquake severely damaged several buildings and AfH’s first decision was to demolish nearly every structure on site. Previously, there were only 5 disgusting toilets and although the facilities had been built with the generous support of Haiti Child Sponsorship, the space was severely inadequate. The new classroom building under construction:
In 2004 the UN sent a peacekeeping mission to Haiti to respond to problems that were largely stemming from near anarchy in Cite Soleil. Local police hadn’t been able to enter the neighborhood near the center of Port au Prince for several years. Although it is much more stable now, Cite Soleil is still considered one of the most dangerous areas in the Western Hemisphere. (disclaimer: I do all my work in the safety of AfH’s office and was not present on site for any of the following events)
We met with the three U of M alumni working in Port-au-Prince for lunch today. If you count our group of six soon-to-be alumni, maybe we could apply for a Haiti chapter of the alumni association…? The three Haiti veterans you see here are Andrew Ripp (left) of MSAADA Architects, Anne Hake (second from right), a colleague at AfH, and John Wade (the only one not pretending this isn’t a staged photo), also of MSAADA.
More on these alums and a quick update on Villa Rosa below the fold…
A few of us have been working with schools and after a client’s response to the question “What are you looking for in your new school?” was “We want this to be a school of the future,” I began to wonder what that meant.
Most of our posts so far have focused on our work here with AfH and while it is our focus, we have had time to relax, learn and discover more of this beautiful island. This weekend was one of those moments.
Last weekend we had the opportunity to visit a pediatric clinic being built by No Time for Poverty in Port Salut. No Time for Poverty is an non-profit organization started by Jeff & Michele Boston from Saint Paul, MN. There is more information about their organization at their website www.notimeforpoverty.org. The clinic has been a long time in planning and is being built to address a need for quality health care in rural areas. It is difficult for rural hospitals and clinics to retain doctors, most of the hospitals and doctors are focused in Port au Prince. In response No Time for poverty has sponsored the schooling of three doctors and a dentist from the area. In return for tuition the students will be working at the clinic after they graduate. The organization has given a preference to hiring locally and has heavily involved the community in decision making for the clinic. Like Architecture for Humanity they take a community based approach to their work. The building is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in August. The project has run into some set backs and schedules have had to be adjusted to “haitian” time. Many of the stories we heard from our host Rachel McManus about the construction sounded familiar to stories we have heard in the office. It was another reminder that construction in Haiti provides its own set of challenges.
We were invited to stay the night in No Time for Poverty’s house in Port Salut. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to find a beautiful view from the porch looking out over the ocean. The weekend quickly turned into a mini vacation away from Port au Prince. It was a 15 min walk from the house to the beach and it was a nice change to be able to walk and not have to worry about the crazy traffic. The beach was beautiful and we happily enjoyed sunday morning swimming before heading back.
Working here with Architecture for Humanity, half of us are focused on school projects. Of the list of projects that AfH is involved in, many are schools. Schools seem to be one of the best places for AfH and their donors to make an immediate difference in the lives of the people here in Haiti. Clearly, housing and clinics are also priorities, but building houses for 800 people requires a lot more time and material than building a school for 800 students. Building a clinic is only helpful if there is money and skill available to run it after construction. But schools here also serve as a valuable connection point to the community.
Please be aware that building in Haiti is difficult. The seismic activity of the region is perhaps the most well known of the challenges, and then there’s tropical storms. Most of the building materials arrive on a ship, driving up the costs to often times exceed averages in the United States. That means making good buildings is expensive and much of what is required to build well has a massive environmental impact.
The Villa Rosa team (including Jessica, Kristen and I) has officially moved onto the third stage of our urban design project: the design phase. All of the hard work of mapping, mobilizing the community, and coordinating with the alphabet soup of NGOs will be the base for our planning effort, beginning with two weeks of “micro-planning.” Based on a blend of factors, including access, drainage, and housing repair grants, the team selected three areas most conducive to intervention. In these zones, we will try to ameliorate some of the effects of Villa Rosa’s unplanned growth - realigning housing plots, redesigning drainage systems, and creating public spaces for everyone.
It is easy in America to forget how much has simply been given to us just because of where we were born. As an American you are likely to have a roof over your head, a bed, and access to medical services, power, toilets, and clean running water. That is simply not the case here; here you do not just turn a knob and have water, much less water you can drink.
This last week, I’ve been particularly aware of all the aspects of water I never think about at home: grey, potable, flow, retention, transportation… etc. Danica and I have been researching to develop a water system for a toilet building for the all-girls school at Elie Dubois. This will be AFH’s first attempt at installing flushing toilets here in Haiti and they are to be combined with a water collection system and a bio digester. Water will collect from the roofs of several buildings on site and stored until it is pumped to a cistern on the roof of the toilet building that allows gravity to provide the pressure to flush the toilet and guide waste to the digester. It sounds simple enough, but have you ever considered how much pressure it takes to flush a toilet or what it is actually needed for … I hadn’t. When there is no power and no running water but a toilet, these are the questions you have to find answers to… without a plumber.
If more water is needed than we can afford to collect then non-potable water can be bought and trucked in, but this only applies in areas where trucks can navigate. As was mentioned, we went on a four hour hike on Sunday up in the mountains. We saw a part of Haiti that was lush with green in a way the city density simply can’t afford. There were trees and every inch of the mountainside was planted. It wasn’t till I saw a woman washing clothes in a basin that I wondered how that water got there.