July 1, 2010 — Initiative reCOVER, a University of Virginia School of Architecture program to design and build disaster recovery structures, is participating in "Building Back Better Communities/Port au Prince, Haiti." The Haitian government-sponsored international competition is intended to address the need to house 1.3 million people left homeless following the country's Jan. 12 earthquake.
Competition submissions will be judged in two phases, with the first submission due July 5 and the second on Aug. 2. If U.Va.'s design passes the two review stages, it will be included in an October expo in Haiti.
The expo will showcase prototype structures and bring together housing manufacturers, contractors, material suppliers, nongovernmental organizations, construction consultants, architects and designers to work together on reconstruction projects.
Following the expo, the Haitian government will move forward to construct a housing settlement for up to 200 families.
"The expo is a way of raising awareness and making these partnerships viable," Initiative reCOVER director and architecture assistant professor Anselmo Canfora said.
The reCOVER project is funded by a $40,680 grant from the University's Jefferson Public Citizens program, which supports student research and service.
The Initiative reCOVER design is a hybrid – part modular with interior components that house appliances, service and storage, and part prefabricated panelized building envelope, with some conventional building construction or on-site assembly.
Canfora and a team of five students – graduate student Aja Bulla-Richards and fourth-year students Sara Harper, Sally Lee, Nathan Parker and Lauren Thompson – are working to build the prototype at the University-owned Milton Airport hangar.
"Our team works incredibly well together and we share the roles of researching, designing, producing, representing and documenting our project," Parker said.
The design responds not only to the need for housing, but also to economic and environmental issues.
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.
"The reCOVER home is a completely panelized and modularized system that can be flat-packed and delivered to the site. It can then be built using hand tools with only a small group of unskilled workers and one skilled worker," Thompson said. "The assembly time is currently estimated at about two days."
The goal of the system is "a 'plug-and-play' strategy of prefabricated, panelized components and limits the number of individual build¬ing parts necessary to complete the house," Canfor said. "This time-saving strategy will have substantial economic benefits in terms of reducing overall costs associated with energy costs to run power tools and generators."
While addressing the specific housing needs in Haiti, the design was conceived as universal and can be adapted to recovery housing needs in other countries.
Speaking of the competition proposal, Lee said, "This system provides the versatility for this housing unit to be customized to various cultures, climates and people. 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."
The reCOVER design utilizes passive environmental solutions to bring light and air through the house, and the design maintains a close link between interior and 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. Photovoltaic panels provide electricity for ambient interior light and to run small appliances.
These considerations, coupled with the design's response to Haitian cultural heritage and traditions in domestic architecture, have further economic implications as well.
"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."
Initiative reCOVER is partnering with All Technically Proficient Professionals LLC; The Arup Cause and Building Goodness Foundation on the project.
The Haitian government's international partners in "Building Back Better Communities" are the World Bank, Clinton Foundation, Habitat for Humanity International; Architecture for Humanity; U.K.-based activist architects John McAslan + Partners and engineering and technical specialists Arup. Capital projects adviser Malcolm Reading Consultants of London is managing the competition.