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U.Va. Architecture School's 'Initiative reCOVER' Wins International Housing for Haiti Competition

January 13, 2011 — Initiative reCOVER, a University of Virginia School of Architecture program to design and build disaster recovery structures, has won first prize in an international housing competition to help with the reconstruction of Haiti following the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

The award comes from ARCHIVE -- Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments -- an international nonprofit organization promoting housing as a central strategy for preventing illness and providing care among the poor.

The reCOVER design, "Breathe House," is a hybrid – part modular, part panelized, with some conventional building construction or on-site assembly – that addresses the need for housing to reduce disease transmission in Haiti, where tuberculosis is the second-leading infectious disease killer after HIV/AIDS.

"The Breathe House, emerging out of Professor Canfora's studio teaching and research, is a wonderful manifestation of our school's commitment to providing public service as part of the design education experience," Architecture School Dean Kim Tanzer said. "Professor Canfora and his students, working with an interdisciplinary team, have created a design which promises to address climatic and resource challenges in an inventive way. We look forward to seeing the finished project in St. Marc, and we thank ARCHIVE for sponsoring this worthwhile competition."

"The reCOVER team is honored to be a part of this effort to build quality housing for the community of St. Marc, Haiti," said architecture assistant professor Anselmo Canfora, director of Initiative reCOVER, who worked with a team of five – graduate architecture student Aja Bulla-Richards and fourth-year undergraduate students Sara Harper, Sally Lee, Nathan Parker and Lauren Thompson – to realize the project.

"We look forward to working diligently with all stakeholders to help realize safe, healthy and well-built houses," Canfora said.
 
The team also includes Drs. Richard Guerrant and Rebecca Dillingham, specialists in infectious diseases in U.Va.'s Center for Global Health in the Medical School; engineer Ewan Smith, of Arup Engineers in Cardiff, Wales; Charlottesville-based mechanical engineer Galen Staengl; and Michael Stoneking, a principal with Stoneking/von Storch Architects and Building Goodness Foundation.

"Safe, dignified housing is a critical foundation for health and well-being as well as the prevention of disease," said Dillingham, whose work revolves around earthquake recovery in Haiti and AIDS in Africa. "This project is a welcome and essential next step toward the rebuilding of Haiti."

"Breathe House" and the second- and third-place, honorable mention and merit award-winning designs, were selected from 147 design teams from five continents. U.Va.'s first-place design received a $5,000 award.

The five designs will be constructed this year in Haiti's eastern coastal town of St. Marc. ARCHIVE will build the houses for Foundation Esther Boucicault Stanislas, a community organization dedicated to providing access to medicine and improving the quality of life for people in the region living with HIV/AIDS. Each house has a construction budget of $60,000.

"What has sadly been overlooked, even prior to the earthquake, is how housing improvements can address the root causes of poor health," ARCHIVE founder Peter Williams said. "We hope our project will empower Haitians in rebuilding their lives, but also we want to replicate this model in other countries – demonstrating that among the poorest, housing can be a central strategy for improving health."

The "Breathe House" design is open and utilizes passive environmental solutions to bring light and air through the house, and maintains a close link to exterior space to facilitate indoor and outdoor living and promote community and socialization. This is accomplished with large porches with removable awnings that reflect Haitian culture and customs.

The passive ventilation strategy is supplemented to exchange indoor air with a combined use of low-volume fan units, ultraviolet air cleaners and surface sterilizers. A photovoltaic system mounted on the roof of the main housing unit will provide electricity to power these systems, as well as lighting for potential medical interventions and a refrigeration unit for vaccines and sensitive prescription medicine.

The design integrates advanced, unobtrusive, low-cost sensing technology to monitor air quality, temperature and humidity.

This aspect of the prototype research and development was funded by a 2010 grant of $2 million from the National Science Foundation. The interdisciplinary research team awarded the grant includes architecture, mechanical and systems engineering, computer science and business management faculty at the University. The development of the full-scale housing prototype is supported by an Environmental Protection Agency P3 grant and a $40,680 grant from the University's Jefferson Public Citizens program, which supports student research and service.

Coupled with the design's response to Haitian cultural heritage and traditions in domestic architecture, the design has further economic implications as well.

Prefabricated exterior wall frames can be sided with locally sourced materials, such as bamboo, recycled or regional wood or locally manufactured metal.

"One of the most unique aspects of the design is that we are looking at very large urgent issues in Haiti, such as deforestation and erosion, and trying to find the most appropriate response not only to the competition brief, but also to larger challenges facing the communities in Haiti," Bulla-Richards said.

Incorporating local materials, such as bamboo for siding, "supports the bamboo industry in Haiti and could strengthen the local economy while also encouraging protecting the land from erosion and therefore preventing the contamination of waterways," she said.

While addressing the specific housing needs in Haiti, the design can be adapted to recovery housing needs in other countries.

"This system provides the versatility for this housing unit to be customized to various cultures, climates and people," Lee said. "We wanted also to make it as suitable to the specific group of people in need by trying to integrate as many cultural comforts for them as we can in the house."

"We see our system as a prototypical design and one that can be replicated and improved over time by the building industry in Haiti," Canfora said.

The project also benefits U.Va. students.

"This experience is invaluable for my education and for me as an aspiring architect. The reCOVER project traverses the threshold between design and reality," Parker said. "Seeing an idea become reality on this scale is not something that can be taught, but is something that must be experienced to understand."

— By Jane Ford

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