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Safe Harbor

March 29, 2012

HOK and the USGBC partner to build a new orphanage and children’s center in a slowly recovering Haiti.

By Asad Syrkett

Safe Harbor
Image courtesy HOK

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Though Haiti has been out of the media spotlight in recent months, efforts to rebuild infrastructure and facilities in the struggling nation march on: More than two years after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the country in January 2010, organizations in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors are ramping up their long-standing involvement in the country’s revitalization.

Much of the new work by groups like Architecture for Humanity and Studio Drum Collaborative [see RECORD, March 2012, page 88] has focused on constructing schools in the country’s hardest hit regions, but a recent partnership between the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and design conglomerate HOK has produced a plan for a different type of building: an orphanage and children’s center.

A representative from the Michigan-based, green-building consultancy Adaptive Building Solutions—one of the USGBC’s partners—led the USGBC to Lucien Duncan, founder of the Foundation Enfant Jesus (FEJ). FEJ is a nondenominational, Port-au-Prince-based nonprofit that, since 2003, has provided educational, medical, and job-placement services to members of its community. Roger Limoges, the USGBC’s vice president for organizational development, says the meeting was fortuitous and immediately spawned a series of conversations between the Duncan family, the USGBC, and HOK. “We did a lot of Skyping with the Duncans,” Limoges recalls. “We’d been approached about this project by other architectural firms,” he adds. “Some were really apprehensive about going down to Haiti. But HOK jumped on it.”

The collaboration led to Project Haiti, a plan for an L-shaped, three-story facility for local, orphaned children. The building, which HOK hopes will earn a LEED Platinum rating, will house sleeping rooms for the center’s orphans on the top floor, kitchen and dining spaces on the intermediate level, and areas for prospective parents on the first. HOK design leader Thomas Knittel and his team aim to build in a way that can serve as a model for other construction in the region. “We asked ourselves: how do you build appropriately in concrete?” Knittel says. Because Haiti is located in a high seismic zone, the architect says, “we specified a concrete structural frame that will be repetitive and cellular, and infill material that’s much lighter.”  “We couldn’t use concrete block, because it has some lateral strength issues.” The design of the building encourages natural ventilation, aims for net-zero water use and waste disposal, and features a net-like, Kapok-wood enclosure that should reduce solar heat gain. Limoges says he hopes the project will provide a teachable model of “sustainability and resiliency” for further redevelopment in Haiti.

Plans to break ground on the project in June are contingent on an effort to raise about $1 million, an initiative that has been aided by private and corporate donors and the attention of organizations like former President Bill Clinton’s eponymous foundation, which adopted Project Haiti as one of its Global Initiatives for 2012. While Global Initiative-designated projects like the orphanage do not receive any funding under the seven-year-old program, the foundation does match projects with potential donors. If all goes according to schedule, construction will wrap up in March of 2013.

While LEED certification and increasing global awareness of Haiti’s ongoing rebuilding effort are noble ends, Project Haiti’s primary goal is to better serve the orphans housed by FEJ, says Sarah Weissman, an architect and director of HOK’s IMPACT program, which is dedicated to community outreach across the U.S. and, now, in Haiti. “The Duncans are amazing. Walking around the [current] facilities with them, it just seemed ingrained in them to give back,” Weissman says. “When I asked Lucienne what was next, she said, ‘Oh, Regina [Duncan] wants to work with elderly people.’” Weissman laughed. “So they span the whole gamut.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 4/2/2012.  Lucien Duncan, not his mother, Lucienne Duncan, founded FEJ in 2003. And Adaptive Building Solutions is a member company of the USGBC, not design firm HOK.

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