Kaid Benfield Archive


Rebuilding Haiti, quickly and thoughtfully

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 16, 2010 at 1:37PM

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  a neighborhood destroyed by the Haitian earthquake (by: United Nations Development Program) 

  a man walks through the ruins in Port-au-Prince (by: UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

The massive earthquake in Haiti has caused a major crisis of homelessness.  Addressing it poses almost inconceivable challenges.

People need shelter that can be built very quickly and cheaply, that can be replicated thousands of times.  It needs to be secure from the elements, and it needs to respect the culture of the Haitian people.

One of the most promising approaches that I have seen has been devised by Andres Duany, who with colleagues created the “Katrina Cottages” that provided relief (and an alternative to FEMA trailers) to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi following the 2005 hurricane and flooding.  The solution for Haiti involves prefabricated shelters that can be manufactured offsite, easily shipped in flat-pack form, and then assembled locally in a day or less.

  design for Haiti shelter (by: DPZ via Inhabitat)

According to a story in the Miami Herald written by Andres Viglucci, the genesis came from another project in the Duany Plater-Zyberk portfolio:

“The material is a composite that Duany calls ‘totally miraculous’ -- thin but strong, durable, fireproof, waterproof and mold-proof. The idea grew out of a project Duany was already working on in Miami's Little Haiti, to erect eight larger prefab houses using the same technique and material.”

The structure is only part of it, of course.  In Viglucci’s story and in the fascinating video below, Andres describes challenges relating to sanitation, sewage, local customs regarding cooking, eating, and windows, and more, all in the context of extreme poverty.  There is clearly a learn-by-doing aspect to this as well.  (As a personal aside, this passionate fan of Georgetown basketball was pleased to hear Andres refer in the video to the fundraising work for Haiti being done by former Hoya and Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.) 

Glancing at the design initially, I was tempted to deem it too cold and simplistic.  I was wrong.  Watch and learn: 


  Rebuilding Haiti from Marvin Joseph on Vimeo.