A Return to Haiti

I recently returned to Haiti, just months after leaving my one-year fellowship working with Architecture for Humanity -- a position also supported by American Institute of Architects (AIA) with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). I returned to tour projects I left in progress and spend time at the La Concorde orphanage. Progress, albeit slow, is apparent on Architecture for Humanity projects and many others around Port-au-Prince, despite material shortages, inadequate construction knowledge, gang activity, and the fact that nearly everything is done by hand.

Two recently-finished Architecture for Humanity school projects (College Mixte Le Bon Berger Montrouis and Ecole La Dignite) opened with great fanfare Haitian style. Both projects were also featured in the March issue of Architectural Record focusing on Building for Social Change.

Architecture for Humanity's mission is to create beautiful and well-designed projects in resource-challenged areas. The happy, smiling school children, with books open and pencils in hand, confirmed to me that these school projects are well worth the effort. I've been a licensed architect for 12 years, and this work has been the most rewarding of my career. Given Haiti's high illiteracy rate (50%) and staggering unemployment (80%), these schools will enhance the future of Haiti for many years. In addition, the construction laborers on these projects are now skilled workers and will hopefully carry safe building practices forward to their next project or when building their own home.

While challenges abound in disaster contexts, serendipity along with good hearts also turns bad situations inside out. During my early work in Haiti, I accompanied Fredric King, a filmmaker, and several NY Schack Institute students to the La Concorde orphanage where they were shooting part of a documentary. It had been eight months after the earthquake and the children and caretakers were still living in tents. Also on the site was a nurse from Nebraska making a weekly visit who showed us around this incredibly crowded site where the orphanage's three-story building had disintegrated, killing only one child out of 60. It was a heartrending afternoon and each of us could do no less than pledge our support, not knowing what form it would take.

A few days after that initial visit, an Iowa couple on a personal medical mission investigated the orphanage and found the kids in dire need of medical attention. They returned numerous times over the next few months and eventually adopted a sick boy. They have since created the Love Takes Root foundation to raise funds for a new building and have purchased land in the south part of Haiti. They discovered my involvement and have asked me to help design La Concorde's new school and residence.

Fredric made a six-minute film about the orphanage and new project, which will help the foundation raise funds; students in the NY Schack construction management program return to the orphanage each semester to engage in aspects of design and rebuilding in a post-disaster context; and I am able, with the support of my firm to continue work for the orphanage while challenging architects and designers around me to venture out of their business-as-usual practices. There is a whole world out there in need of good design.

As always, track our progress down on the ground at The Haiti Rebuilding Center or AIA for Haiti.


[photo by Architecture for Humanity: Dedication for an 8 classroom building in Montrouis, Haiti]


[photo by Architecture for Humanity: Roof of the classroom building in Montrouis]


[photo by Stacey McMahan: Ecole la Dignite classroom interior]


[photo by Stacey McMahan: Ecole la Dignite classroom interior]


[photo by Stacey McMahan: Fredric filming our visit to the cramped current LaConcorde Orphanage site]