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Rebuilding Haiti: The effort continues

Boston architectural designer Katie Davis volunteered in Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake. She returned to Haiti last year to design a school and has since returned to Boston and the blog to share more on what this project means to her and the community.

Since the earthquake in 2010, Haiti has slowly been rebuilding. The NGO Islamic Relief Worldwide arrived in Haiti immediately following the earthquake to perform emergency disaster relief and settled in Port-au-Prince as Islamic Relief Haiti (IRH). After receiving funding from the Islamic Development Bank , IRH began to focus on their long-term development mission of rebuilding five public schools in Port-au-Prince as permanent fixtures for the communities. I was recruited to return to Haiti to join the IRH team as lead architect for the design of Lycée Jean Marie Vincent school.

While three of the five schools were contracted through a local architecture firm in Port-au-Prince, I was asked to design the largest of the schools and to perform the overall research for IRH’s School Reconstruction Program. Excited and nervous, I knew this adventure would be challenging. Studying community design and disaster relief architecture in my master’s thesis, the challenge has developed into a personal and professional investment, having felt emotionally attached to the culture and its rebuilding for over three years now.

When I took a leave from Stantec and arrived in Port-au-Prince in mid-August 2012, I hit the ground 
running, collecting site information and establishing contacts. I reviewed the Ministry of Education School Standards and did a comparison with the US and International Building Codes, including accessibility. It was important to take a holistic approach to rebuilding the school. This meant that in a country like Haiti, whose buildings failed because of poor construction prior to the earthquake, we decided to keep the school administration, students and local community involved in the process from the very beginning. This became a learning exercise for everyone, sharing strengths and highlighting weaknesses. I arranged for an immediate kick-off meeting to discuss these points. Collaboration became key to the success of the project.

From that point forward, I really took advantage of the freedom of design. This exploration is something a young designer doesn’t always have the opportunity to pursue within the average project here at home. Because of the climate and the simplicity of construction methods in Haiti, I really got to play with the natural resources and got creative manipulating the resources available on the island.

One of the larger objectives of my extended research was to install a sanitation system capable of serving Lycée Jean Marie Vincent’s large student population. While we wanted it to be modern, it also had to be practical, so we decided to install a biosystem. The system naturally filters human waste to produce fertilizer that can be used in the gardens on the site. Because another major issue in the country is the maintenance of toilets in large public schools, the school administration and some of the students’ parents accompanied us on site visits to see successful and innovative sanitation system installations. Through these visits, we were able to share ideas about maintenance and begin to develop a management plan specific to each school.

The biosystem was just one example of the sustainable mindset – both environmentally and economically – that we tried to spread throughout design and construction of the school. While the biosystem is intended to fertilize the gardens, the gardens vary from a large experimental crop garden to grow, learn about and sell crops, to vertical sun-shading gardens, to stormwater runoff filtration planter gardens. A new recycling program on the campus will also be part of its management plan. The potable water filtration system uses rainwater collection and is designed to be UV filtered for drinking and handwashing. While solar panels provide electricity to the buildings’ lighting and computer room, the overall design encourages natural daylighting and passive ventilation. All of the materials are regional and most are recycled, including the handmade doors, windows and window walls crafted by local metal artisans. The school includes both new construction, as well as some rehabilitation work of its existing classroom building.

I returned to Boston early in 2013 after a local contractor was selected. My Stantec colleagues and I are now pursuing the school’s LEED certification. I think it is fair to say that all avenues involved in the collaboration of this project, especially its students, are excited to see the school completed. Through its strong mission, the school hopes to represent a model for design and construction in its community, as well as receive recognition of this globally through the platform of LEED.

Katie working with the project team on site.

Studying community design and disaster relief in my master’s thesis, this challenge developed into a personal and professional investment.

A new school was critical to the Lycee Jean Marie Vincent community.

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