Inhabitat recently wrote about Emergency Shelters and Disaster Relief For The People of Haiti and how Shipping Containers Could Provide Disaster Relief For Haiti, both which reflect the standard thinking among architects and designers for decades: “we have great ideas, and if you just let us get involved we could make a huge difference.” And why not – we can design our way out of any problem. Cameron and Kate of Architecture for Humanity, who are young enough that they shouldn’t know better, take a completely different approach – they think that the last thing we should be doing is dropping in shipping containers and hi-tech architectural solutions.
They say that you have to take it slow:
“When disaster strikes the second disaster that looms is the efficiency and impact of the three R’s – Response, Recovery and Reconstruction. As seen by the poor response by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, lives are lost when a coordinated effort is not conducted. In a developing country like Haiti the biggest danger is the effects of bad post disaster planning and construction. Waterborne diseases spread like wildfire in temporary camps and dumping sub standard materials not only is dangerous but undermines an existing yet fragile construction industry. Additionally without proper oversight structures are usually rebuilt in unsafe ways by well intentioned volunteers.”
Architecture for Humanity continues:
In a few weeks attention to Haiti will die down, just as the real work begins in reconstructing affected areas. After Hurricane Katrina our architecture and construction professionals spent four years living and working in Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. By setting up community housing resource centers and working directly with families we could create not only the appropriate and sustainable structures but homes that fit the lives of its’ residents. In order serve the families suffering right now we need to develop long term reconstruction initiatives that include the voices of those affected at the heart of the plans.
Top down solutions will cause tragic consequences for generations to come. This cannot happen in Haiti. They have suffered enough.
Instead of dropping things in, Architecture for Humanity likes to work with the locals to develop proposals built from indigenous materials, that will get the support of everyone. As Kate said in Wired two years ago about imported solutions:
“Shipping costs are prohibitive — it can sometimes cost twice as much to ship a design as it does to build it,” says Architecture for Humanity’s Kate Stohr. “Designs that are scalable, built using local materials or can also be used as core housing — as a hub for basic services like sanitation, communication, supplies — that basic dose of shelter, are key.”
Kate also notes that housing units are not the only thing that are needed; “You can’t design for disaster after the fact,” notes Kate. “Unless it’s strategically thought about in advance of disaster, these ideas don’t work.” Often, what’s needed most is a central station where basic necessities — water, food, medical supplies and information — can be doled out.
Kate and Cameron have learned from experience what the rest of us have not; perhaps at 35 years old Cameron is already jaded. But what he says makes sense:
For those of us who are part of the reconstruction effort, we need to think about immediate needs for shelter while planning for the next three to five years of rebuilding. When we are rebuilding, do not let the media set the time line and expectations for reconstruction. I remember vividly well known news personalities standing on the rubble of homes in the lower ninth proclaiming that ‘this time next year we will see families back home.’ Some well meaning NGOs, who usually have little building experience, are even worse — ‘we’ll have 25,000 Haitians back home if you donate today.’
Read a realistic recovery plan at Architecture for Humanity.
More on AFH at TreeHugger: