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Rebuilding Haiti

Minority Architects Mobilize to Help Haiti

January 25, 2010

By David Sokol

The January 12 earthquake that struck Haiti has galvanized the architecture community to lend its support, but the disaster has particularly resonated among African-American practitioners, some of whom are of Haitian descent. “Because all of us from the Diaspora share certain cultural values and sensitivities, it would be a tremendous lost opportunity if aid and reconstruction efforts do not involve our membership,” says Steven Lewis, AIA, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

Last week NOMA and its nonprofit arm, The NOMA Foundation, launched Service in Solidarity in response to the earthquake. The organization is encouraging its approximately 600 professional and student members to give money to the American Red Cross, Architecture for Humanity, and other organizations listed on NOMA’s Web site. Also, it’s encouraging members to consider donating tents, and Lewis has promised 80 tents to the Silver Spring, Maryland–based humanitarian group CHF International.

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Speaking to farther-off rebuilding initiatives, Lewis admits, “None of us really understands what we can do right now, but we are joining each other so that we can maximize our ability when things become clear.” Currently Lewis is concretizing affiliations with the AIA, Architecture for Humanity, and other sister groups to coordinate long-term provision of technical assistance and design expertise with the Haitian government, and he is aligning NOMA with other African-American professional groups, which should result in an interdisciplinary effort.

Cooperation has taken place within NOMA, too. Renee Kemp-Rotan, director of capital projects for the City of Birmingham, Alabama, already has translated the Service in Solidarity announcement into French, for instance. And at this past weekend’s executive board meeting in New Orleans, NOMA confirmed that Nicole Hollant-Denis, AIA, president of New York firm Aarris Architects, would oversee subsequent Service in Solidarity undertakings. “I truly feel it’s a calling,” Hollant-Denis says of the volunteer post. “My father was Haitian, my [Cornell] undergraduate thesis proposed a memorial at Citadelle Laferrière. This is really in line with my thinking and beliefs.”  

Hollant-Denis notes that once rebuilding gets under way, “design solutions should not just be good and sensible, but good and sensible for Haiti.” In one example of that specificity, Haitian culture’s strong emphasis on extended family must be acknowledged by rebuilding authorities. “That translates into architecture through layouts, through communal spaces. I’m going to spend these coming weeks developing these principles more clearly.”

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