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Emergency Housing With a Cultural Perspective

03/02/2010

That hundreds of thousands of homes are needed in nature ravaged Haiti is common knowledge.  Mixing culture with architecture and engineering is uncommon ingenuity. 

A little known, but potentially important contributor to the vast and urgent global demand for emergency housing is Innovida Holdings, LLC, which has met the need by creating safe, secure and aesthetically pleasing places to live as Haitian citizens toil to rebuild their tortured nation.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=haiti+housing&iid=8080581″ src=”4/1/c/f/Housing_Manufacturer_Announces_52e5.jpg?adImageId=10913030&imageId=8080581″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

The Innovida shelter, made of fiber composite panels, is described as quickly deployable, inexpensive, sturdy, waterproof and resilient to hurricane winds. The emergency relief houses are also reported to be earthquake resistent.  

If thousands of these structures can be built in newly created or reinvigorated communities in Haiti, and if a stronger and smarter government imposes meaningful building codes to direct future construction, perhaps the next natural disaster to strike that nation will be less significant in consequence. 

In short, Haiti needs to become more like Chile, where building requirements helped save lives in the recent 8.8 magnitude earthquake.  With inexpensive housing solutions and smart planning, the dawn of a new urban ethic is possible in Haiti.

In order to encourage those who live in Haiti to depart their water threatened tents and makeshift shelters, adding a cultural flavor to the product offers a new dimension in the psychology, and acceptance of emergency housing. This is smart architecture. The housing does not take months to build…just days or weeks.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=haiti+housing&iid=8080579″ src=”3/7/9/7/Housing_Manufacturer_Announces_7a7e.jpg?adImageId=10913031&imageId=8080579″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

Others with grand designs to help in the aftermath of the devastation have tried to provide a Haitian housing solution.  In the hours following the Haitian earthquake, your author was in touch with a different company that promised to send 50 cargo containers to the island nation as residential structures.  In December, 2008, some friends and I visited the Washington D.C. convention center to study and inspect a “container home.”  Impressive, sturdy and possibly affordable, it was clear that such a product also had relevance as an emergency housing alternative.  Indeed, when the Haitian earthquake struck, it was clear the container housing solution was an immediate imperative.

But it was not ready, despite grand plans that it could be the answer to creating meaningful new housing to replace tent cities.

The 40 foot steel weatherized structures were to be retrofitted for survivors to achieve safe shelter.  Haitian laborers were envisioned as being employed, after delivery of the containers (with relief supplies) to the quake region, to cut windows and place walls. The goal was to create safe and sanitary living quarters that could withstand earthquakes, survive hurricanes and safely protect against the elements, while stimulating the economy. With a thermal coating, the housing products could be made livable, even in the challenging tropical climate that Haiti endures. Each container house, spartan in nature, would cost between one thousand and two thousand dollars.

There were constant and increasingly frustrating delays in receiving plans to get the project underway. We had sincere hopes the container project could make a difference in the near term and that we could help those seeking to assist Haiti by funding many of these steel houses.  In the end, however, the promises from the entity offering to deploy this solution never came to fruition, as obstacles of economics, shipping and design laboriously impaired the delivery of urgent affordable housing aid to the hundreds of thousands that could benefit. Meanwhile, as search and rescue operations continued, survivors continued to suffer without safe places to live, many grew ill and some perished in the hell that continues to define Haiti’s housing reality.

In stark contrast, Innovida was already working to provide a reasonable real world solution, and seems to be on to something with merit. With projects from India to South America and across the globe, the manufacturer claims it is ready to deploy much needed emergency housing.  As Haiti faces the rapidly approaching rainy season and faces the spread of disease, the benefits of the Innovida solution are acutely timely. If, as represented, Innovida delivers what it boasts, it will serve as a model for emergency relief, of the structural kind, across this fragile planet.

SharedEmergency cannot wait to see families actually moving into Innovida homes.  Just as Innovida seeks to infuse culture into architecture, products like those pictured in this post may help inject a cultural change in a nation that knows little of zoning and building codes.  No longer should insufficient concrete, the lack of reinforced rebar, the failure to plan and shoddy building practices pose the kinds of threats the now crumbled and killer abodes and buildings offered before January 12, 2010, when the face of much of Haiti became a vast nation of rubble, death, dismemberment and despair.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=haiti+housing&iid=8116255″ src=”7/a/4/a/Haitians_Continue_To_cf78.jpg?adImageId=10914118&imageId=8116255″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

As this new type of architecture shows…past mistakes can lead to incredible opportunities. We all must help innovative efforts like Innovida promote a constructive rebuilding reality in disaster prone areas.

Note: The Editor has no financial interest in Innovida Holdings, LLC or any other affiliated entity.

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