Miami hosts Haiti reconstruction charrette
Six Haitian architects, planners, and government officials spent four days in late March with a University of Miami charrette team to flesh out plans for rebuilding the nation that was devastated by an earthquake January 12. The plan and drawings, which were presented at the United Nations March 31, helped Haiti convince other nations to donate $5.3 billion in relief funds.
University of Miami hosted the charrette because of its proximity to Haiti and ties that faculty had made in recent months, says School of Architecture Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. The event was unlike any previous charrette. “Never has there been a charrette where the team didn’t know [ahead of time] the place, the client, or who was on the team,” she says. The Haitians, including Leslie Voltaire, special envoy to the United Nations and head of the reconstruction commission, arrived at the university March 25.
After a brief opening session that outlined the strategic goals of Haiti’s conceptual plan, the charrette team, including University of Miami professors and students and professional new urbanists who paid their own way, began to draw. The team also included representatives of nongovernmental organizations and Miami’s Haitian community. What came out was a nascent plan to rebuild the capital, Port-au-Prince, and distribute population growth and economic activity throughout smaller urban centers around the country.
For rebuilding, a dual code system was suggested, Plater-Zyberk says. Larger buildings would follow an international building code designed to better withstand natural disasters. For individual houses, a “lighter-weight handbook, several pages long,” could guide construction, she says. A concrete slab and a tarp could provide a starter shelter for Haitians who are mostly expected to build their own permanent housing, she says.
A bigger problem is where all of the people will live. Some of Haiti’s urban problems before the earthquake stemmed from too much concentration of population in Port-au-Prince, The New York Times reported March 31. The concentration was largely due to political decisions, the Times explained. Without countervailing measures, the population of the capital could double to 6 million by mid-century — worsening problems and increasing risk, Plater-Zyberk says.
The plan is to move much of the new growth to cities and towns in the countryside. Many of the charrette drawings focused on how this growth could be accommodated in smaller, walkable places (see plan and rendering at left), and communities where a renewed agricultural industry could help to provide employment for people who leave the capital city. The team also looked at new off-the-grid materials and products that could provide infrastructure for a functioning economy, she says.
The Times called the plan for reconstruction “lucid, far-reaching,” and “surprisingly convincing.”