Karrie Jacobs


January 18, 2010

Regarding Haiti

Haitian house at Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village, Americus, Georgia

I’ve been thinking a lot about Haiti which, beyond donating a little money to my NGO of choice, is really all I can do. I have visited a couple of places where natural disasters have erased entire towns, the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina and Greensburg, Kansas after the 2007 tornado, so I can envision wholesale destruction. But these were smallish towns in a big, wealthy country, not the capital city of a small, impoverished country. I keep looking at the pictures and reading the death toll estimates — 40,000, 100,000, 200,000 — and I can’t begin to comprehend what the numbers mean.

I’ve been thinking about Haiti and remembered this house. It was on display at Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village in Americus, Georgia. I saw it in 2003, when I was on my road trip for my book, The Perfect $100,000 House. It was the house that Habitat was supposedly building in Haiti and I thought it was one of the few architecturally distinctive things that the organization has ever done. I fell in love with it and praised it in my book, but I have no idea how many of them were actually built. The house was designed to be hurricane resistant, so the vaulted concrete roof is steel-reinforced, but I suspect the concrete block walls lack the rebar or added structure that would allow it to withstand an earthquake.

Anyway, do-gooders including Habitat, Architecture for Humanity, and Article 25 are gearing up for the rebuilding effort that will need to begin shortly. I have no doubt that these organizations will come up with inspiring prototypes for housing that is hardened against both earthquakes and hurricanes, but the real question here (as it was and still is in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast) is who will build? Who has the money and the will to rebuild hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of homes, mostly for desperately poor people, and do it properly? Are we talking about wholesale housing projects or is there a way to assemble a cheap kit of parts that would allow individual Haitians to rebuild their own modest dwellings but build them stronger?

P.S. I thought this LA Times piece about Haiti’s substandard construction was also worth reading along with the similar NY Times piece.

P.P.S. I’ve got a new Metropolis column up about the naked hotel, and a Travel + Leisure piece about CityCenter in Las Vegas. Plus a T+L web thing about the world’s most beautiful airports.