Section III – Architecture for Humanity: Holistic Model for Architectural Practice in Haiti

Located on the eastern half of the Island of Hispaniola, Haiti is the world’s first black republic and without a doubt the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  It is a small country of about 9 million people, mostly from African descent; a country whose foundations resides on freedom and equality with 200 years of political unrest, corruption and poverty. In January12, 2010, the country encountered its biggest tragedy, when a 7. 0 magnitude earthquake hits the capital of the country, Port au Prince, killing about 230,000 people, displacing about 1.5 million, and destroying 300,000 buildings including most of the major government buildings (Office of Special Envoy, UN). A great wave of international emergency responses with the ideal of rescuing the people of Haiti has led a high concentration of Non-Governmental Organizations in the country, covering all sectors of public services such as health, education and nutrition. Although 5.9 billion dollars has been disbursed into major relief and reconstruction efforts over the last 3 years, seven out of eight UNDP Millennium goals of Haiti are either off-track or with  insufficient information has been provided (MDG). With the potential to reconstruct from the ground up, contextualizing Haiti’s new architecture will enable long lasting sustainable development and a greater step towards self sufficiency, as its traditional method of development through NGO’s has failed.

Haiti as the Republic of NGOs has been quite a problematic subject to discuss specially during the phase of reconstruction of the country over the last three years. From a nationalist point of view, NGOs are a threat to Haiti’s sovereignty because our public sector services such as healthcare, education, shelter and even our employment quota since they highest- paying and well resourced jobs, highly depend on it (Lee).  Although it is also important to acknowledge their importance in the relief efforts, particularly the amount of Haitians that they are able to satisfy the needs on a daily basis. With their financial capabilities as channels for international aid,  NGOs are able to reach thousands of citizens in need, otherwise unreached by Haitian government public services; however The current lack of accountability undermine the local government, ignore its authority and generate a workforce crisis in the public sector by recruiting the highly well - educated Haitian professionals (Lee). As a result, dependency and poverty are common descriptions of the socio-cultural economic and political context of Haiti, and has been for the past 200 years, despite the infusion of approximately 6 billion dollars, roughly half of the country’s gross domestic product over the last three years.

However, unlike most disaster relief organizations, Architecture for Humanity (AFH) and its approach to Haiti’s reconstruction efforts reflect its greater mission to achieve a self sufficient Haiti by attaining stable sustainable development in contextualizing its organizational model and initiatives. Architecture for Humanity, upon its arrival, established a long term disaster relief strategy embodied in the “Haiti Rebuilding Center” as its holistic strategy to rebuild buildings, neighborhoods, industries and economies across the country. The Haiti Rebuilding Center works on long-term reconstruction projects and coordinates the work with professionals, educational institutions and other organizations (Cesal).  It is a one-stop shop for design and construction services, professional training, consumer awareness, professional referrals and construction bid opportunities for local contractors. At its inception, the Haiti Rebuilding Center was envisioned to transition out of the ownership of Architecture for Humanity to be managed and operated solely by Haitian professionals within the next 5 years (Cesal). Today, the Rebuilding Center houses 32 Architects, engineers and support staff - including 4 long-term professional volunteers and 22 Haitian staffers (Johnson “Haiti”). The center hosts monthly meet n greets to encourage dialogue between the building trades and cultivate partnerships towards the future of Haiti. Operating with the realm of architecture and construction, it is not also a vehicle for reconstruction, but also a platform for education, a space of cross cultural interactions, an engine for economic development, and a mean of dialogue among several other organizations working in the reconstruction efforts. Through its model and diverse initiatives, the Haiti Rebuilding Center positioned itself to move beyond its purpose of satisfying basic shelter needs but serves an engine of long term socio-cultural and economic change.

Run by the Rebuilding Center, the Haiti School Initiative prioritized the construction of educational facilities and reveals the latter as the focal point in community recovery (Sinclair).  As a result of the loss of educational structures in the earthquake and AFH’s expertise in school designs, the latter established a grant-program aiming to support the construction of 10 primary and secondary schools throughout Haiti (Cesal). Embedded in the design and construction processes are a participatory design process, a focus on earthquake resistant construction, use of local passive cooling techniques, use of local material, and employment of local workforce. So far, the initiative has provided financial resources for four fully completed schools, five school currently in construction phase and four schools in the design phase, as it seeks to provide educational access to approximately 6000 students in several regions in the capital of Port-au-Prince. (Cesal) As part the Initiative, AFH primarily conducted structural assessment of 16 schools through Haiti and also partnered also with Deutsche Bank and Digicel Foundation to launch the Civic Arts for School program to bring Haitian artists and their work in ten chosen schoolyards around Haiti (Johnson “Open”). Architecture for Humanity’s approach to sustainable development through building educational facilities reveals their commitment to impact the next generation of Haitians to lead the country toward a brighter future of economic prosperity and self sufficiency. It merged the education and the arts to support local artists and create schoolyards which reflect cultural heritage of the people. Through its $6.3 million of construction and expenses, the initiative spurred economic development as AFH solely uses local workforce in the construction process and primarily build the structures with local available materials (Cesal).              

Through its Reconstruction of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) program, as part its Economic Development Impact Studio, the Rebuilding Center was able support long term economic development in critical economic corridors in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The important achievements of this program include: the creation of a large data base of six economic corridors in and around the capital, with special emphasis on the downtown area;  the alliances with three of the major banks in Haiti for loan programs for small businesses;  the identification and analysis of over 140 small business owners for the small business loan program; the promotion of innovative business models and forging alliances with Haitian government sponsors; laying the groundwork for the creation of a Small-Medium-Enterprise Servicing Unit (SME/SU) and lastly the creation of a vibrant and rigorous internship program with INAGHEI (one of the country’s top university), bringing young business school students into the workplace and mentoring them in best business practices (Johnson “Haiti”). Those results demonstrated the careful considerations from AFH to stimulate the economy of Haiti by creating support for the small and medium enterprises through a holistic approach which bridges the gap between the SMEs, the government, and private banking industry in Haiti. AFH also aims to develop and train the next generation of business owners by integrating educational opportunities for university students to drive business model innovations. As a holistic approach to economic development, the complexity of such response reflects the multifaceted results as they intersect social, cultural, economical and political realms.   

Furthermore, through its Bati Byen; “Building Back Better” initiative, the center offers technical assistance and training for building owners and construction professionals. As part of the initiative, it organizes monthly cocktail receptions with selected presentations from partner organizations in the reconstruction efforts (Johnson “Haiti”). It also offers a two-week CAD training workshop for Haitian students and construction professionals and has published literary contents to support and facilitate reconstruction efforts such as one linguistic document, one technical report and two constructions manuals:  Rebuilding 101 Manual and Bamboo beyond words (Cesal).  AFH expanded its role to provide educational supports to create a knowledgeable and trained construction workforce in Haiti. This will not only create a generation of well trained-builders and architects to solidify the country’s building sector, but also facilitates the transition of Architecture for Humanity out of the country, and enabling the center to run solely by Haitian professionals within the next two years

Unlike the traditional NGOs, AFH aimed at self sufficiency and is determined to render itself obsolete after the reconstruction efforts in Haiti. This new architectural typology broadens its range of practice beyond traditional building back to establish a holistic road map towards Haiti’s reconstruction and sovereignty by considering socio-cultural, economic, political and ecological complexities and designing a comprehensive set of initiatives which responds to numerous complex issues such as education, housing, economic development etc... Only through such practice, the profession of architecture will establish its relevancy in the 21st Century as it is the holistic approach to attain stable sustainable development. 

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