The AA School is working with Quisqueya University, the Wynne Farm and ARUP through short workshops to design and build architectural projects contextualized for the climate of the Caribbean and the cultural vernacular of Haiti using bamboo. The country is plagued by a lack of lightweight materials in the built environment, the legacy of disastrous deforestation, and bamboo is a solution to the building supply shortage as well as the damaged ecology.
The AA Haiti Visiting School is built on the premise that the disproportionate devastation of the 2010 Port au Prince Earthquake was a disaster of engineering and deforestation, and not one of nature. In Haiti deforestation has destroyed rural economies and has removed lightweight timbers from the Haitian construction sector. In this present-day scenario, when Haiti’s forest coverage has reached 1.4%, many ecologists, architects and engineers are asking, ‘Can bamboo alleviate some of Haiti’s problems?’
For 2 years now the Architectural Association along with groups of overseas and Haitian students has been designing projects which are born out of site mappings in areas of Haiti and this information is used as design drivers in making projects as location specific as possible. To accomplish this, 3D modeling, cultural lectures from FOKAL (Fondasyon Konesans ak Libete) and CIAT (Comité Interministériel d’Aménagement du Territoire), climate analysis software, and the input of a structural engineer from ARUP refine projects which propose a seismic and climate resilient lightweight vision of a future Haitian built environment.
The deforestation that has afflicted Haiti fits into a global trend. In 2010 the World Resources Institute revealed that the planet has lost 85% of its forest coverage as a result of deforestation. In Haiti, deforestation has removed lightweight materials from the construction sector and this is a pattern being replicated around the world. Where developing countries would often use timber and bamboo, the cement block has taken precedence. Standard methods of construction for the majority of residential, commercial and civic structures in Haiti involve the use of non-reinforced concrete block and are executed by an unskilled labour force.
Such building practices are not unique only to Haiti, as a significant percentage of the developing world’s population inhabits buildings of similar attributes; structurally unstable buildings constructed without the oversight of knowledgeable and experienced engineers and architects. According to the UN-HABITAT in a 2012 study, around 33% of the urban population in the developing world in 2012, or about 863 million people, lived in slums, many of which are in areas exposed to huge seismic and hurricane risks.
The long term goal of the AA Haiti Visiting School, is to encourage a lightweight construction industry in Haiti. In this, local students are trained with the tools and knowledge required to design aesthetically to change the preconceptions of bamboo to the Haitian population and structurally to protect against hurricanes and earthquakes. We want to establish a means to procure lightweight materials to meet the demands of these designers, so they can source from a domestic procurement network that can sustainably treat and sell construction-grade bamboo, to a skilled labor force who have a knowledge of working with the material and the means to build for themselves and their own families at an overall cost less than the pre-2010 per sq ft cost of construction in Haiti.
For the third year we will be investigating the potential of bamboo, through experimental architectural design contextualized for the climate, culture and geopolitical complexities of this Caribbean paradise. Participants will be asked not only to create a vision for a specific site, activity and community, but design a structure that can act a catalyst for a change in a national relationship with the material. In the second stage of the program, one proposal will then be constructed in January 2017.