Reclaiming Heritage: Rebuild Haiti Homes
The Rebuild Haiti Homes Project is a project by Reclaiming Heritage e.v, working together in 3 villages of Croix-des-Bouquets with 30 families to rebuild 30 homes during 2014-2015. The idea was to build new, stronger elevated houses that shade the existing walls that remain standing and allowing the community to re-occupy these ruins turning them back into useful space. Rebuilding not only houses but communities, their histories and identities, by persisting in re-building where their livelihoods already are.
The intervention was based on a comprehensive evaluation of 136 houses in the Villages of Galette, Digneron, Roche Blanche and La Ferronais. Based on this evaluation and on the situation of the families, 30 cases were selected for intervention, while at the same time a local cooperative of volunteers was organized. The work was based on “design-build”. An additional emphasis was put in our case on the enhancement of identity preservation by re-valuing domestic cultural heritage and on the engagement and empowering of the affected community by means of local organization towards economic, social and material resilience.
Departing from the engagement of student, previous experiences in Chile and in Haiti showed the relevance of engaging the community in the reconstruction work in order to increase not only the relevance and acceptance of the built result, but also the quality and impact of the process of construction itself in social contexts struck by catastrophes. Usual reconstruction practices, in their urgency, tend not to involve the community appropriately, resulting on unsustainable and alienated products, undermining the identity and quality of life of the inhabitants. This questions the role of the user, of foreign aid organizations (as our own), the appropriateness and acceptance of the technical solutions. The loss of valuable built and intangible heritage occurs widely and is part of the effects of the damage and loss suffered by the victims. While most of the notorious heritage is repaired, the valuable domestic, non-monumental one is unfortunately often neglected. This raises questions on how to recover not only the material but also the cultural assets damaged or lost with a broader scope at a domestic level, in order to prevent the uprooting of the community.
During a pilot project undertaken in 2014/2015, 30 houses, representative of 6 damage categories, were Repaired, Refurbished and Reconstructed using: the remains of the house to reduce waste, collected materials to reuse waste, processed debris materials to recycle. During the early phase, a Cooperative of local community members was set up and trained through building and management workshops. Under the technical coordination of our professionals, the Cooperative took part in the construction process, professionally acquiring a qualification as construction workers, while the beneficiaries are the ones directly receiving the house improvements. This makes a substantial difference with the self-construction strategies, and aims at installing an improved labour skill that might undertake future building enterprises.
The work draws back to the previous experience for the reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake in the Region of Maule, Chile. The objective of the Chanco prototype was to test the process and gain a rst-hand experience on the potentials of such process from an economical and heritage conservation point of view. This experience led the team to take part in the Haiti Ideas Challenge, organized by ACSA and USAid where it was awarded the Housing Category Prize. The design for Haiti develops substantially starting from the same principles explored in Chanco, thus informing the team’s progress and the potential for international cooperation and teaching processes. The use of reclamation materials in building construction has usually two contrasting approaches: on the one hand, a traditional approach based on recycling of valuable pieces salvaged from demolitions because of a specific quality no longer available from the regular market, such as cast iron bathtubs, big sized doors and windows, bronze locks, etc. A material and a cultural value are attached to such elements, considered antiques, and they are used to convey a sense of tradition in a new context, or to complete a refurbishment of an old building with such qualities as a whole. On the other hand, based on sustainable development rationale applied to building, the re-use has gained ground, not only of building materials but all sorts of refuse, industry debris and the like, often testing extremes such as the use of materials considered garbage: used bottles or cans, old tires, used with or without further process into the building. In between these prevailing extremes, however, an array of alternatives remains to be explored consistently.