Haiti: Building Back Better Communities Competition Entry
Immediately following the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a team of faculty and staff of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities began to develop relationships with engineers and communities in the devastated country. Our team made extended visits in March and June. While driving on the road from Léogâne to Jacmel, very close to the epicenter, we observed completely intact gabion retaining walls. This observation lead to an idea that the mountains of concrete rubble created by the earthquake could be used as a fill material for the baskets which in turn could be used to make retaining walls and walls for shelters.
Subsequently, in June 2010, the Government of the Republic of Haiti issued an RFP calling for housing designs that would be appropriate for post-earthquake reconstruction. In addition to our Mortenson Center team, I assembled a team that included engineers with seismic expertise, a major NGO, and several Haitian natives and expats. The RFP, Building Back Better Communities, elicited over 400 submissions. Our proposal was named a semi-finalist on 30 July (along with over 300 others) and a finalist on 10 September (a group of between 20 and 30.) Unfortunately, this competition was suspended on 14 Oct, 2010. Our submission cover letter read in part:
The Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities and Operation USA are prepared for quick responses to crises, but we are also institutionally committed to provide the long-term support and technical assistance needed to help recovering and developing communities. Since the earthquake, both organizations have been working to build relationships with a wide spectrum of Haitian citizens and organizations and are prepared to dedicate the resources needed to complete these . . . critical [shelter] projects.
. . . After speaking with people throughout Haiti that have been affected by the earthquake, and that are familiar with the construction industry of the country we believe that the design, materials and construction methods outlined in this submission are well suited to the context. However, it is critically important to our organizations that these proposals be improved by further community engagement and assessment. We are fundamentally opposed to preconceived, out-of-the-box “solutions” that use expensive, exotic, imported materials. Instead, we have created a team that is nimble, empathetic and more concerned with an adaptive process of design that values community input rather than with a magazine-ready “image.” We will work to develop and refine an approach to shelter that will provide skills training, identify leadership and create sustainable employment.