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Haiti Design Expo Postponed Due to Upcoming Election

November 23, 2010

By C. J. Hughes

Underscoring the difficulties facing the rebuilding effort in Haiti, a government-sponsored competition to create housing for the earthquake-ravaged nation has been delayed.

In October, winners of “Building Back Better Communities” were scheduled to begin exhibiting models of their designs at an expo in Port-au-Prince. To be built on a 12-acre former sugar plantation, the homes would be toured by government officials, who in turn would commission some to be constructed in decimated neighborhoods.

The expo is slated to be built on a 12-acre site in Port-au-Prince.
Image © John McAslan +Partners
The expo is slated to be built on a 12-acre site in Port-au-Prince.
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But citing Haiti’s national elections on November 28, which require the full focus of government officials, organizers decided to push back the expo’s start date to January.

“It was getting precariously close, so we decided, ‘Let’s place it beyond the elections,’ ” says architect John McAslan, founding principal of the London-based firm John McAslan + Partners, one of the competition organizers, along with the Clinton Foundation, the World Bank, and Architecture for Humanity.

Haiti’s elections originally were slated for February 28, 2010, but were delayed due to the devastating January 12 quake.

Because all deadlines related to the expo had to be pushed back, organizers also cancelled a plan to have the winning designers travel to Haiti in late October to present their models. No makeup date has yet been set for those presentations, McAslan says.

Some Progress
So far, the jury has selected 160 architecture firms and construction suppliers from the 400 that applied. Those companies, which organizers would not reveal to RECORD, will build homes in either the northern or southern half of the site, or both.

The northern half will feature an expo, with 50 model homes from 120 companies representing 32 countries, with 40 of those companies being architecture firms. Those homes will be displayed from January to April, as opposed to October to January as originally planned, and will be clustered around a tented enclosure that will serve as a meeting space.

After Haitian officials assess the homes and select their favorites, the structures could be relocated to places where they’re needed, organizers say. The architects will have to finance construction of the prototypes; eventually, they may be commissioned by the Haitian government to mass-produce the homes.

The site’s southern half, meanwhile, will feature a permanent village, one that can house 1,000 people in 150 homes. That part of the site, whose cost was not disclosed, does have $1 million in funding so far from several sources: Deutsche Bank; Digicel, a telecom company; and OneXOne, a children-focused charity, McAslan says. The 40 submissions for this portion of the project will be whittled to 12, he adds.

Shaky Start
In many ways, delays have plagued “Building Back Better Communities” from the start. Announced on June 17, the competition required entrants to submit a letter of interest plus a description of qualifications by June 28. Organizers were supposed to notify winners on July 2, with renderings due a few weeks later. Yet, those rendering deadlines were extended numerous times, say contestants, who didn’t end up turning in final drawings until early October.

For architect Derek Ray, whose 192-square-foot wood-frame house with a sloped corrugated-steel roof earned him a spot on the trade-show site, the delays are disappointing. Ray, a director at Design Styles Architecture of Clearwater, Florida, had a hotel booked and plane tickets in hand when he learned the recent news, he says. Still, he adds, “just to be part of this adventure as an architect is important.”

Similarly, architect Rodney Leon expressed frustration that his 270-square-foot concrete home, with distinct living, sleeping, cooking, and bathroom sections, won’t be realized for months. “This is a critical endeavor, and it would be a shame if they didn’t move forward with this aggressively,” says the New York-based Leon, who in 2005 won the competition to design the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan.

Haiti’s 7.0-magnitude quake destroyed at least 200,000 homes. Since then, about 18,000 replacements have been built, according to relief workers, but 1.5 million people are still homeless.

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