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University of Tennessee-Knoxville

February 3, 2015

In the five years since a massive earthquake rocked the island nation of Haiti, UT faculty and students have helped the country’s rebuilding efforts by designing a secondary school, housing, and a clinic that are now in various stages of construction.

Next up: the design of preschools to address the education needs of the country’s youngest citizens.

"Since 2010, UT’s Haiti projects have given students hands-on experience in creating designs for real spaces and real people that bring about change," said Ali Alsaleh, a fifth-year architecture major who took part in a fall 2014 Haiti studio class. Today marks the fifth anniversary of the earthquake.

“In architecture and design studios, our clients are usually hypothetical,” said Alsaleh, who helped design one of the preschools that will be built.

He traveled to Haiti in the fall with a UT team to learn more about the country and its needs.

“Our involvement in Haiti has actually had real outcomes. We got to speak to the actual people who will be using our buildings. It made me realize that architecture can help rebuild a community and refocused my passion for architecture as a humanitarian field.”

The UT Haiti Project, led by the College of Architecture and Design and a collaboration between various UT programs, has made students more sensitive to cross-cultural differences, how to respond to the needs of others, and how to work well across disciplines, said Architecture Professor John McRae, who helped launch the project.

“That’s important in their overall professional development,” he said.

UT has partnered with the Haiti Development Fund and its executive director, Jean Thomas, on all its projects. The organization pays for the construction of the buildings, and members of the UT Haiti Project provide some oversight, McRae said.

Knoxville nonprofit HaitiServe helped defray the cost of travel for UT faculty and students.

A look at the UT-designed Haiti projects and their status:

  • L’Exode Secondary School: UT faculty and students in spring 2011 designed a three-phase school master plan, which will serve students in grades seven to twelve. The first phase of construction— five first-story classrooms, restrooms, and the cafeteria-meeting hall—was completed in 2012, and the school welcomed its first students that fall. The school is in Fond-des-Blancs, seventy miles outside the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

This month, construction begins on the second phase of the school—an outdoor athletic stadium. The school will eventually include more classrooms, a library and dormitories. It currently has 100 students and will eventually serve up to 500 children.

  • Housing: In spring 2012, the UT Haiti Project designed fourteen houses for the Fond-des-Blancs community. So far, one has been constructed. The home currently houses participants of the Caleb Fellows Program, which trains young men and then sends them out into the community to provide leadership and be catalysts for change.
  • Medical clinic: In spring 2013, the College of Architecture and Design, in partnership with the College of Nursing, US organization Friends of Fort Liberte, and Knoxville architect Chris King, designed an addition and the complete overhaul of a medical clinic in Fort Liberte, a community about eleven miles from the Dominican Republic border. Funds are currently being raised for the work.
  • New gate: In spring 2014, the Haiti Project designed a new steel gate for the L’Exode Secondary School. Local artist Preston Farabow built it, and he and McRae will go to Haiti in May to install it.
  • LIFEHouse guidebook: UT created the book to address the urgent need for adequate building standards in the country and emphasize the lesser-known relationship between housing design and disease prevention. The book will be translated into French, English, and Creole, and will showcase how Haitians can build secure and healthy homes using local materials and methods.
  • Preschools: In fall 2014, the Haiti studio designed a preschool for Fond-des-Blancs that will serve up to 450 youngsters. A group of architecture students and faculty, along with Robyn Brookshire, director of the UT Early Learning Center, traveled to Haiti to learn more about the country’s early childhood education system to help them come up with the design. Based on the work done in the fall 2014 studio, students in a fall 2015 studio course will design more preschools for rural Haitian communities.
  • Haiti disaster response master’s thesis: A master’s thesis project by Mallory Barga proposed new direction for rebuilding and transitional housing in the country. Barga’s project, which won the College of Architecture and Design’s top award in spring 2014, provided input for the work done in the Haiti studio in fall 2014. A copy was sent to the Haiti Development Fund.

“We’ve tried to capture the vision of what everyone hopes is a new Haiti,” McRae said.

Learn more about the Haiti Project on its website.

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