Bamboo Workshops in Haiti by Architectural Association School of Architecture

Bamboo Workshops in Haiti by Architectural Association School of Architecture

by John Naylor

The AA School has been working with Quisqueya Univeristy, the Wynne Farm and ARUP through short workshops to design, and in 2017 build, architectural projects contextualised for the climate of the Caribbean, cultural vernacular of Haiti, and the material of bamboo. The country is plagued by a lack of lightweight materials in the built environment, the legacy of disastrous deforestation, and bamboo is being seen as a solution to the building stock as well as the damaged ecology.

The Architectural Association Visiting School is an extension to and embodiment of the AA School's 'unit system' of teaching and learning. The hallmark of this model is the delivery of distinctive, highly focused design agendas delivered to a small collaborative group of students, architects and other creative people in the development of projects.

The AA Haiti Visiting School is one such altruistic incarnation. It is built on the premise that the disproportionate devastation of the 2010 Port au Prince Earthquake was a disasters of engineering and deforestation, and not one of nature. In Haiti deforestation has destroyed rural economies and has removed lightweight timbers from the Haitian construction sector. In this present-day scenario, when Haiti's forest coverage has reached 1.4%, many ecologists, architects and engineers are asking, 'Can bamboo alleviate some of Haiti's problems?'

For 2 years now the Architectural Association along with groups of overseas and Haitian students has been designing projects which are born out of site mappings in areas of Haiti and this information is used as design drivers in making projects as location specific as possible. 3D modelling; cultural lectures from FOKAL (Fondasyon Konesans ak Libete) and CIAT (Comité Interministériel d'Aménagement du Territoire); climate analysis software; and the input of a structural engineer from ARUP refine projects which propose a seismic and climate resilient lightweight vision of a future Haitian built environment.

The deforestation that has afflicted Haiti fits into a global trend. In 2010 the World Resources Institute revealed that the planet has lost 85% of its forest coverage as a result of deforestation. Deforestation in Haiti has local consequences however the accumulative effect of these globally compound themselves to create a world crisis of rising temperatures, atmospheric pollution, lost species, and populations vulnerable to deadly landslides.

In Haiti like many developing countries deforestation has removed lightweight materials from the construction sector and this is a pattern being replicated around the world. Where developing countries would often use timber and bamboo, the cement block has taken precedence. Standard methods of construction for the majority of residential, commercial and civic structures in Haiti involve the use of non-reinforced concrete block and are executed by an unskilled labour force.

Such building practices are not unique only to Haiti, as a significant percentage of the developing world's population inhabits buildings of similar attributes; structurally unstable buildings constructed without the oversight of knowledgeable and experienced engineers and architects. According to the UN-HABITAT in a 2012 study, around 33% of the urban population in the developing world in 2012, or about 863 million people, lived in slums, many of which are in areas exposed to huge seismic and hurricane risks.

The long term goal of the AA Haiti Visiting School, is to encourage a lightweight construction industry in Haiti. In this, local students are trained with the tools and knowledge required to design aesthetically to change the preconceptions of bamboo to the Haitian population and structurally to protect against hurricanes and earthquakes. We want to establish a means to procure lightweight materials to meet the demands of these designers, so they can source from a domestic procurement network that can sustainably treat and sell construction grade bamboo, to a skilled labour force who have a knowledge of working with the material and the means to build for themselves and their own families at an overall cost less than the pre-2010 per sqft cost of construction in Haiti.

For the third year we will be investigating the potential of bamboo, through experimental architectural design contextualised for the climate, culture and geopolitical complexities of this Caribbean paradise. Participants will be asked not only to create a vision for a specific site, activity and community, but design a structure that can act a catalyst for a change in a national relationship with the material. In the second stage of the programme, one proposal will then be constructed in January 2017.

The 2016/2017 programme will be running in two separate consecutive courses:

Summer Course

We will spend the majority of our time surrounded by bamboo in the plantations of Marmelade, Northern Haiti. Working in groups of three, we are inviting students to design an occupyable space. The first to use local bamboo as load bearing structure. Given the ecological devastation and lack of lightweight materials in construction, we are asking student projects to simultaneously answer two questions: 'What is the role of the architect in such a context?' And 'Can bamboo help in alleviating some of Haiti's problems?'

Since it will take time to change the mentality of Haitian clients and end users towards lightweight materials like bamboo, we do not force students to design solely with this material. We teach a design methodology which uses local mapping techniques and community consultations as design drivers. By teaching a range of open source software we allow students to model, refine and then test their projects against hurricane and seismic vulnerabilities.

Participants are encouraged to appreciate the challenges of designing for the cultural and climatic context of Haiti. We then ask students to consider bamboo as a solution to some of those challenges.

Winter Course

In the winter course participants will be on the building site to learn about: bamboo construction; the role of 3d modelling software on site; and will be part of building up a body of documentation. The knowledge and techniques developed on this project will form a blueprint for others in Haiti to replicate.

We will be constructing one project from the summer course which will subsequently have been engineered in the intervening months. Since this proposal will be unique in many ways we expect there to be additional challenges through the construction process, all providing chances to learn about building an experimental bamboo structure in the context of Haiti.

Sponsors include: Architectural Association School of Architecture, Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve, ARUP, Quisqueya University, Haiti, British Embassy Port au Prince, Gardiner and Theobald, CIAT, FOKAL, Gensler, Foster and Partners, Fletcher Priest Architects, Kalabam, Aetypik, Voyages Lumiere, Bahare Khodabande Photographer, PerezReiter Architects, and Armatura.

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