How Can Architects Get Involved in Haiti Disaster Relief?
By C. J. Hughes
Like many architects, George Gekas saw the destruction caused by a massive earthquake in Haiti and wondered how he could tap his talents to help.
But, as the resident of Mt. Desert Island, Maine, placed phone calls and clicked around the Internet, he realized options for immediate, hands-on action were limited. “It was very frustrating,” he said. “I thought, ‘There’s no time to waste.’”
Gekas’s experience, which is not unique, illustrates a larger point. The scene after the January 12 quake, which killed up to 200,000 people, is still so unsettled and chaotic that the need for design professionals is still a long ways off, according to aid workers, government leaders, and disaster experts.
Indeed, architects are roundly being encouraged to donate money instead of lending hands, says Cameron Sinclair, director of Architecture for Humanity, a not-for-profit that focuses on humanitarian crises.
“It’s just going to take a really long time before people start focusing on construction,” says Sinclair, who’s become a major force in the relief effort because of his extensive contacts in the island nation. Before the quake, Sinclair had been designing a sports facility in Haiti that could double as a hurricane shelter.
In the eight days following the 7.0-magnitude quake, Sinclair received 7,000 e-mails, with many from unemployed architects eager to pitch in. But until he meets with world leaders to discuss strategies, Sinclair cannot offer anybody positions. In the meantime, he says, the $100,000 he raised online will go a long way. (For his part, Gekas donated to OxFam International.)
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is also taking somewhat of a wait-and-see approach, even if it eventually aims to put up sturdy, environmentally friendly homes like it did in New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, says spokesperson Marie Coleman. “We definitely want to be a part of the rebuilding process.”
While the details are ironed out, the USGBC is encouraging people to donate via the Web site of the Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief Fund, an effort organized by former President Bill Clinton.
“Haiti at the moment is pretty much the last place you want to put a group of enthusiastic, well-meaning architects,” says architect Robin Cross, a director of Article 25, a London-based not-for-profit named for the part of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees housing. “What you need now is water, food, and medical supplies,” says Cross, adding that he is recruiting architects for long-term planning, with more than 200 already signed up.
About the only out-of-town architects now on the ground may be the seven employed by the Emergency Architects Foundation, a Paris-based first-responder-type organization that lays the groundwork for future building through block-by-block inventories of destruction.
Plus, because there’s so much fear among residents that aftershocks will send more structures tumbling, Haitians “need professional advice about whether they can enter this building or that building,” says director Alice Moreira.
Among the first to build houses in Haiti, or at least simulacra of them, may be Habitat for Humanity International, whose on-island staff of 40 was unharmed by the quake, says senior director Kip Scheidler.
With 200,000 homes destroyed and 1.2 million people homeless, Haiti is poised to receive its first tarp-and-panel “shelter kits,” with 4,000 arriving in the next few weeks, Scheidler says.
And they will likely be set up on the edges of the city, where there’s more land to work with, he adds, rather than in downtown Port-au-Prince, which is glutted with smashed concrete slabs that speak to the country’s lack of building codes.
“There was no one to ever say, ‘There’s not enough rebar in there,’” he says, “or, ‘There’s not enough sand in the cement.’ ”
While opportunities for working architects to set foot on Haiti, or design for it, may be scarce for now, ideas are abounding on campuses.
At the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, for instance, students will grab hammers to team with the nearby Building Goodness Foundation, a charity that’s already constructed homes in Haiti. Those homes are “still standing, so that’s a good start,” says dean Kim Tanzer.
And at the College of Environmental Design at U.C. Berkeley, the faculty is mulling a fall-term studio in Haiti that will feature hands-on design work, in the spirit of what’s been done in Kenya in the past, says spokesperson Kathleen Maclay.
Local AIA chapters are starting to brainstorm, too. After some of Seattle’s 2,000 members started calling up looking to assist Haiti, the chapter put together a “Diversity Roundtable” with representatives from the Red Cross and other relief groups, in order to strategize what could be done down the road.
“The culture of Seattle is very community-minded, sure,” says executive director Lisa Richmond. “But I think architects also see themselves as responsible world citizens.”
Álvaro Joaquim de Melo Siza Vieira, GOSE, GCIH, is a contemporary Portuguese architect, born 25 June 1933 in Matosinhos a small coastal town by Porto. He is internationally known as Álvaro Siza (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈaɫvɐɾu ˈsizɐ].
He graduated in architecture in 1955, at the former School of Fine Arts from the University of Porto, the current FAUP – Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto. He completed his first built work (four houses in Matosinhos) even before ending his studies in 1954, the same year that he first opened his private practice in Porto. Siza Vieira taught at the school from 1966 to 1969, returning in 1976. In addition to his teaching there, he has been a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the University of Pennsylvania; Los Andes University of Bogota; and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
Along with Fernando Távora, he is one of the references of the Porto School of Architecture where both were teachers. Both architects worked together between 1955 and 1958. Another architect he has collaborated with is Eduardo Souto de Moura, e.g. on Portugal’s flagship pavilions at Expo 98 in Lisbon and Expo 2000 in Hannover, as well as on the Serpentine Pavillon 2005. Siza’s work is often described as “poetic modernism“; he himself has contributed to publications on Luis Barragán.
Most of his best known works are located in his hometown Porto: the Boa Nova Tea House (1963), the Faculty of Architecture (1987–93), and the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (1997). Since the mid-1970s, Siza has been involved in numerous designs for public housing and universities. Most recently, he started coordinating the rehabilitation of the monuments and architectonic heritage of Cidade Velha (Old Village) in Santiago, an island of Cape Verde.
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