Housing Help for Haiti

A Miami architect teams up with InnoVida to design homes for Haiti.

By Tristram Korten
Michael Landsberg


Coming up with a solution to the homelessness caused by Haiti's earthquake is not as simple as unloading crates of prefabricated structures -- at least if they are expected to be used, according to Architect Andres Duany, who designed the "Katrina Cottage" for hurricane ravaged New Orleans.

Duany has joined with InnoVida, a Miami-based manufacturer of fiber composite panels, to create  inexpensive, durable, weather-resistant dwellings specifically for the Haitians affected by the earthquake. But aware that reconstruction efforts in disaster zones "have a long history of getting it wrong," as Duany put it, the design team made a point of consulting sociologists, anthropologists, as well as visiting Haiti to see for themselves how people lived.

Duany is best known as a pioneer of New Urbanism, which advocates for pedestrian friendly communities and a break from suburban sprawl. He and his wife founded the architecture and design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company in Miami. On Wednesday, Duany and InnoVida CEO, Claudio Osorio, unveiled the results of their collaboration at the company's manufacturing plant in Miami Gardens. It included a group of four designs that accommodate the different lifestyles among Haiti's poor. For instance, windows are not necessarily universally desired, Duany said, because "some people fear they let spirits in." Other differences include families that prefer to cook outside versus inside, and communal sleeping arrangements versus distinct bedrooms.

Because water and plumbing will be scarce in newly devastated Haiti, Duany announced plans to utilize an innovative Swedish toilet design called PeePoo, which uses an inexpensive plastic bag coated with a chemical compound that breaks down human waste into a non-toxic compost that can be used as a fertilizer.

The homes will all be made with InnoVida's patented composite, which the company boasts is four times as earthquake resistant as concrete; rated to withstand 155 miles per hour winds, waterproof, and low maintenance because it does not provide a food source or habitat for algae, mold, rodents or termites. The structures can be assembled by laborers in a day, requiring no heavy equipment or specialized knowledge.

InnoVida has pledged to donate an initial 1,000 dwellings, to be shipped within the next 30 days. The company is also planning to build a manufacturing plant in Haiti by the end of the year to produce the dwellings. The project will cost $15 million, financed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The plant is expected to provide 250 direct jobs, and 1,000 indirect jobs its first year, and will manufacture an estimated 10,000 dwellings per year.

"InnoVida plans to be in Haiti for a long time," Osorio said. "We are investing in Haiti."


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