In March of 2011, a design-build class from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) received a grant in support of their efforts to design a shelter for disaster relief. The money from the grant was used to travel to Haiti to see conditions on the ground, 14 months after the earthquake that reportedly amassed some 230,000 fatalities.
The goal of the trip was to investigate the myriads of different shelter construction projects still ongoing as Haiti transitions from the emergency tents and tarpaulins that still populate the landscape, into temporary housing for the foreseeable future until permanent housing can be provided through rebuilding.
One of the more ambitious and impressionable projects we came across was the UberShelter.
The NGOs represented in Haiti, in many cases, still revert back to the obvious transitional shelter means and methods – wood studs and plywood, typically painted to offer some color options to the continuously repeated prototype… the look is mundane… the sequence lacks appeal. It is recognized that these trying circumstances result in limited means and methods… but the model used does not offer much in terms of human dignity, privacy and security – all things ultimately important to the Haitian people as they try to find their way through recovery.
UberShelter presented a different model. Their efforts were grassroots. They had spent nearly all of their money for the project, most of which was provided through grants. They waited several weeks to get their flat-packed component shelter through customs. They went to the tent camps. They talked to the people. And they found someone they wanted to build their shelter with.
Genesis had a tragic story, like nearly all Haitians do. But it was his resilience that stood out most. His stature was respected, and he took action when it was needed… the search for clean water and proper sanitation is still an extraordinary issue in Port-au-Prince.
The construction took place over just a few days – and this experiment turned into a community effort. Over the course of the 3 days it took to construct, some 28 different residents within the tent city offered assistance in the build. The product used metal studs, and a cellular acrylic sheathing offering durability and resistance to the climate that the typical wood shelters fail to provide. The design was well ventilated, and the cells in the sheathing acted in a rain-screen type fashion, ventilating some of the hot air before it penetrated the shelter walls. It was not perfect, but was better.
UberShelter still visits with Genesis regularly, asking questions about the design – likes and dislikes… things that work, and things that don’t – questions that should be asked, but never are. They have used the first design-build effort to inform their second project – a donated shelter to Magdala, another tent camp resident in Port-au-Prince.
We spent an afternoon with Rafael and Genesis to see the original shelter in person. This video represents our salute to the project.
Text by David Lopez