Since the January 2010 earthquake, Architecture for Humanity’s (AFH) Haiti outpost has highlighted the importance of education—in two major ways. The San Francisco–based nonprofit and its partners have thrown themselves into rebuilding schools, with one finished, seven more under construction, and five in development. “Our first and primary focus is on getting the schools back and running,” says Kate Stohr, who co-founded AFH in 1999 with designer Cameron Sinclair. “Otherwise, parents can’t get back to work. Also, schools are the hub of the community.”
Additionally, AFH (www.architectureforhumanity.org) is providing training in CAD and Revit at its newly completed Rebuilding Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The space serves as a resource for the local design and building communities, as well as the many nonprofits and universities who are working to rebuild the country. And the organization hopes to establish more construction training programs over the year ahead. This emphasis on knowledge exchange is something of a departure from the typical AFH project, but Stohr, Sinclair, and their 10-person staff in Haiti felt it made the most sense for the situation. “There is no enforcement of building codes in Haiti at the moment,” says Stohr, who before starting AFH was a journalist and documentary filmmaker. “We’re making sure the rebuilding community knows we will help them. It’s been a different working environment for us—normally we focus on implementation—but it will save lives in the long run.”
Other recent Haiti undertakings include the design of homes for individual families, and a peer-reviewed, illustrated Haiti Rebuilding 101 manual with versions in Creole, English, French, and Spanish. The manual can be downloaded for free from www.openarchitecturenetwork.org. AFH also teamed with Habitat for Humanity in 2010 to analyze the effectiveness and longevity of several emergency housing types in Haiti. Soon Stohr and Sinclair plan to launch Bati Byen, an ambitious public information campaign to help Haitians understand the basic principles behind structurally safe buildings.
The globally active organization also worked in Gaza last year, among other places, creating and distributing a repair manual for damaged structures. And its Karachi, Pakistan–based chapter conducted flood assessments and aid activities in the wake of this past summer’s disastrous rainstorms. Though the settings vary, AFH’s general approach seems to be remarkably consistent: It connects with other organizations and with locals to try to improve whatever the situation is on the ground. “At the end of the day, the focus is on helping professionals give back in their communities,” Stohr says.