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The reconstruction of housing in Haiti: technical issues, habitability and heritage

This study looked at the evolutions observed at the time, related to the Haitian context, the vulnerability of the territory and the modes of construction, by integrating technical, legal, social, economic, political, etc. factors. and the cultural specificities of the Haitian peasant world. Il also analysed the resettlement projects following the earthquake of 12 January 2010 in permanent or temporary housing, and demonstrated the importance of the architect’s role in a post-disaster relocation situation.

In the Haitian context, there are numerous different kinds of risks of varying frequency. The vulnerability of Haiti to these risks is all the more significant in that the majority of Haitians live in precarious situations and in poverty. The risk of earthquakes was obscured by the risk of cyclones, which are more frequent, and by the economic and political difficulties of day to day life. It therefore was not on the minds of the population, nor on the minds of leaders.

In the construction sector, the desire to protect oneself against cyclones, the everyday feeling of insecurity and the desire for western modernity gradually led builders, owners and decision-makers to prefer buildings made of concrete blocks with concrete roofs. But though this construction technique is able to resist cyclones, it was not sufficiently well done in Haiti for buildings to resist earthquakes.

This study therefore aimed to understand these recent changes, including technical, legal, social, economic, political, etc. factors and the specific cultural characteristics of the Haitian peasant farming environment. Analysis of traditional rural housing provided lessons about the quality of materials used in the past, the architectural details which have contributed to improving the durability of houses over time, and the know-how of those who built them. But what factors led Haitians to abandon their traditional building know-how? How can these be promoted today? What land ownership issues exist? Etc.

It also analysed projects to re-house victims of the 12 January 2010 earthquake in permanent or temporary housing: what was the quality of the housing, the durability of the construction, its impact on long-term development, beyond the simple function of providing post-disaster shelter? How flexible were the programmes in terms of adapting to specific cultural factors? To what extent have competent Haitian personnel been integrated? Etc.

This study also showed the importance of the role of the architect in post-disaster re-housing situations, to re-house victims in durable houses which were decent and culturally adapted, and also to guide choices towards solutions which were both durable and in keeping with the objectives of the programme.