Six months after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake and several strong aftershocks destroyed more than 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings and killed more than 200,000 people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the dire situation for residents is little improved. According to the United Nations, more than 1 million people are still in urgent need of shelter and infrastructure, and rebuilding assistance has been deployed slowly.

Stacey L. McMahan, AIA, LEED AP.
Courtesy Koch Hazard Architects Stacey L. McMahan, AIA, LEED AP.

That’s why the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) joined to co-sponsor a fellowship program for a sustainable design and building expert to lead a new community design studio established by Architecture for Humanity (AFH) in Port-au-Prince. After a monthlong search, the organizations have appointed Stacey L. McMahan, AIA, LEED AP, principal at Koch Hazard Architects, as the Architecture for Humanity Sustainable Design Fellow for Haiti. "We believed that sustainability needed a special voice and advocate during the reconstruction [in Haiti]," says Eric Cesal, AFH's Haiti program manager. "In the urgency of disaster, there is a tendency to sidestep sustainability as an issue ... we felt that by creating the fellowship we could draw a special amoung of attention to the issue in this post-disaster context."

As the director of the Green Studio in Koch Hazard's Sioux Falls, S.D., office, McMahan has been intimately involved with every LEED project in the firm's portfolio—11 so far—ranging from office and retail to student housing and neighborhood development. Over the years, McMahan has worked within her community to advance LEED concepts and build local sustainable initiatives. Her passion for sustainable design—informed by the creative simplicity instilled in her while growing up in a small Kansas farming town—combined with her drive to help others spurred her to apply for the AFH fellowship.

"Haiti is an architectural disaster, and I have experience and skills that might be able to make a difference," she says. "I want to leave Haiti after a year knowing I made some kind of difference."

The newly created AFH Rebuilding Center in Port-au-Prince will provide reconstruction support based on green building principles to the people of Haiti. But first, McMahan notes, the studio will have to discover what constitutes sustainability in Haiti. 

Led by McMahan, the center will help improve the durability, safety, structural integrity, and sustainability of the local built environment. As a learning opportunity, the studio's work also will help inform disaster response strategies and post-disaster rebuilding efforts around the world.

McMahan will begin her work in Haiti on Aug. 9. During the one-year fellowship, she will collaborate with designers, construction professionals, volunteers, and local government in Port-au-Prince to implement green building principles in the reconstruction process. McMahan also will help develop a professional association to provide support to local construction trades, offer workshops and training sessions, and will work to create sustainable building capacity among informal and formal building networks. 

Read more about rebuilding efforts in Haiti:

ra March/April 2010 issue article about architects working to rebuild Haiti

Brookings Institution white paper about temporary shelter and permanent housing solutions in Haiti