I’d think you should know that my Haiti activity has slowed down for the last 4 months or so because I’m involved in a fairly large design project near Seattle, unrelated to Haiti. My role, as architect on the project, should wind down in a month or so, then I plan to spend more time on safely rebuilding Haiti.
These two photos can be found in an impressive piece of investigative journalism prepared by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW or Ayiti Kale Je), titled: “The Morne à Cabri Mystery Houses”.
HGW reports that this development, 10km east of Port-au-Prince and in the middle of nowhere, will eventually include 3000 of these “tiny” square concrete pillboxes. To get some perspective on what 3000 might look like, all in rows, a mere 178 units are visible in the top photo.
Presumably the project is designed to house Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) – aka Haitians living in tent camps. HGW’s astounding report asks a slew of unanswered questions, including such basic things as: “Who owns the land? What is the budget? Who is overseeing the development?”
Who on earth designed this deplorable complex? HGW describes it as being located in a “quasi-desert”. It looks to me like some kind of internment camp, or a strange penitentiary where each inmate is housed in a stand alone cell.
How one goes about describing Morne à Cabri is not difficult: desolate, brutal, rigidly uniform and repetitious, culturally inappropriate and devoid of style. Recall all the talk about the importance of people centered reconstruction soon after Haiti’s calamitous quake. What happened?
There is no information available as to the unit’s floor area, but a rough idea can be garnered by the second photo. The wall height is likely 2.4m (around 8 feet), and the length and width appears to be double this. So a rough calculation indicates 23m2 (+/- 250 square feet), including the porch. It is hard to imagine how a family of five could thrive in a house this small. And where are the yards and common areas, the Haitians call lakou? No Haitian should have to live this way, no matter how poor or destitute.
One of many concerns is heat build up within the units. The photos, taken last summer, show the units under construction: but it certainly appears they will end up with flat concrete roofs, without overhangs – therefore no shading. This will lead to significant heat build up. High quality reflective paint applied to all exterior surfaces could help mitigate this. But even the best paint eventually dulls.
Sean Penn and Giorgio Armani ran a full page ad in The New York Times this Tuesday to appeal for donations to Mr. Penn’s cause, the “J/P Haitian Relief Organization” . Mr. Penn’s commitment to Haiti is admirable. The ad prompted a visit to the J/P HRO web site again. It appears the tent city his organization manages is now down to a population of 20,000, from around 50,000 soon after the calamitous quake. Keep in mind, according to Oxfam, 358,000 people still remain in 496 camps, now approaching three years since that terrible day – January 12, 2010.
Based on an average size family of five, Morne à Cabri, at 3000 units, would not be big enough to house even Mr. Penn’s 20,000 homeless. It would be very interesting if Mr. Penn took some of the IDP in his camp over to the site to check things out, and even spend a few days and nights in a unit. What would potential future occupants have to say? Would they want to live there?
J/P HRO’s website lists Jean-Max Bellerive, the former Prime Minister under Préval, as one of its Board Members. As HGW’s expose points out, the contract for Morne à Cabri occurred under Mr. Bellerive’s watch, and was possibly even signed by him. Perhaps Mr. Penn could intervene and encourage Mr. Bellerive to help HGW solve the mysteries, and use his influence to take action to stop this project in its tracks.
Greg Higgins, Architect and Managing Director, HabiTek, LLC