2011 haiti_utk publication

One to Another

A Downloadable Publication from the 2011 Haiti UTK Studio


WBIR Report of the Haiti Studio

Introduction haiti_utk

Welcome to the Haiti UTK site! The work on these pages reflects student engagement in design for both a school and housing for the community of Fonds des Bloncs, Haiti in collaboration with the Haiti Christian Development Fund. The project was initiated in the early fall of 2010 and subsequently a class of 19 students, in the spring of 2011, was given the responsibility of deisgning a secondary school. The school is under constuction. A new group of students is now hard at work developing new housing in Fonds des Blancs. The work of these students can be seen in the pages of this blog. Students of the class will be traveling to Haiti Februay 2-6 to collect addiional data. It is anticipated that this second phase of the project will be completed in late April with construction starting summer 2012. The work of the students is being guided by three primary faculty, John McRae, David Matthews, and Chris King, a local practictioner. The students during their exploration will engage a wide range of issues including context, culture, resources, climate and other outside factors not common to their expereince. 

Students: Cassidy Barnett, Aaron Brown, Sarah Heimermann, Mitzi Coker, Emily Corgan, Ben Cross, Peter Duke, Emily Fike, Sam Funari, Lauren Heile, Kendra McHaney, Lauren Metts, Morgan Oiler, Bernice Paez, Forrest Reynolds, Emily Ryan, James Sawyer, Zachary Smith, Robert Thew, Cory Wikerson Faculty: John McRae, Chris King, David Matthews

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Special Thanks!

The Haiti Studio for spring 2012 is being supported by HaitiServe foundation based in Knoxville Tennessee, that is focused on outreach and engagement in improving conditions in Haiti. 

haiti_utk public blog index

Entries in Fond des Blancs (4)


Visit to Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti


Upon arrival to Fond-des-Blancs, after a 4 hour bus ride that covered only about 70 miles, we knew we were in for a culture shock. The comforts of home, like readily available water, electricity, air conditioning, etc, were nowhere to be found. The house we stayed was connected to a generator to provide some of these things, but only for about an hour a day.


Group gathered outside Jean and Joy's guest house (where we stayed). Photo by Cassidy Barnett

During our daily activities, most of which consisted of walking or hiking, we were able to witness the daily life of the Haitian people living in Fond-des-Blancs. Although we were able to witness, it was very hard for us to relate to and understand. For some, much of the day was spent traveling (by foot or donkey) to gather clean water, which often came from nearby streams. In the same streams, sheep, chickens, donkeys, and cattle drank while the women washed their clothing in it.


Local women washing their clothing in the stream. Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti. Photo by Cassidy Barnett

The market was an unforgettable experience, in many aspects. There were no storefronts, credit card machines, or cash registers. Many items were laid out on a cloth on the dirt, while some had wooden tables under a tent. Women worked and sold most of the items at market, while men and women of all ages crowded the market’s main cross-section.


Fond-des-Blancs market. Photo by Zach Smith

We stuck out worse than a sore thumb. Unlike in the city, where aid relief and tourism is common, many people of Fond-des-Blancs rarely see groups of white people.


Some of our group walking through the market. Photo by Zach Smith

Fond-des-Blancs market. Photo by Zach Smith

Motorcycles and cell phones were a phenomena that it still a mystery to us. In a country where people barely have enough money to eat and drink clean water, they have cell phones and many have motorcycles.


Photo by Zach Smith

Many of these cultural aspects are foreign and hard for many of us to understand. As we returned home, we felt as though we had a good understanding of daily life and living quarters of the people of Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti. 


Site Overview

During our site visits, it was immediately apparent to us that the parameters of the site were smaller than we had envisioned. The west side of the site has slopes on each side of the stream much steeper than we originally thought. The vegetation is lush, with many different types of trees and shrubs.

Site boundary at stream crossing. Photo by Cassidy Barnett

A group palm trees at the front of the site creates a natural shaded area.

Palm trees. Photo by Cassidy Barnett

There are also several cleared-out areas, as seen below.

Photo by Zach Smith


Design Proposal

Precedent Analysis

Butterfly Houses

Analysis of Butterfly Houses

Located in a small village of Noh Bo, Tak on the Thai-Burmese border, the Butterfly Houses were designed by TYIN Tegnestue, a non profit organization specializing in humanitarian architecture. This community of dormitories was designed to work in collaboration with the existing orphanage. The goal was to create a space where children could have a normal living experience, with room to climb, swing, interact, or be alone. Our analysis focused primarily on the functionality of the units and how we might glean principles out of their design to utilize in our design of Haitian residences.





Site Plan and Driving ConceptsPrivate Courtyard DiagramStreet ViewPedestrian Walkway

Street View Looking Into CourtyardFloor Plan

When designing this proposal for a housing development in Fonds Des Blancs, Haiti, we decided to shape our program around four major, driving concepts. In order to optimize views and maintain a strong edge along the street, porches were designed to fit the house and act as a buffer between the irregularly placed houses and the rigid street. Most of the porches used are considered private and semi-private, so that they can better serve the inward-focused courtyard or take full advantage of interactions that would occurr along the street edge.

Throughout the site, a pedestrian path has been created to guide both visitors and residents through the site, serving as the main connection between the commercial zone along the main street and the large communal space located near the intersection of the streams. This path follows the natural topography of the site within a rigid, paved framework, while also interweaving various landscape features. Running the full length of the path is a colonade of trees designed to optimize certain views and shield other views into the private courtyard. These trees serve as a guide to lead pedestrians to the communal pavilion or the commercial space. Views have dictated much of what was designed on the site, from the orientation of the homes, to the location of the pavilion and communal space.

Every house on the site has been designed in such a way that it acts as one part of group of homes that create several pods across the site. This layout allowed us to utilize the private courtyards and create an inward focusing space that can be used as a gathering place for cooking, socializing or recreation. While each home is allotted to their own lot, the private courtyard acts as  backyard to each home within the pod.

Team 3 Design Proposal Gallery









Comprehending the misunderstood

One can never fully understand a foreign nation.  There are too many intricate nuances to ever fully investigate.  There is too little time to hear enough stories.  We are born with too few eyes to perceive everything around us… and our visit was merely five awe-inspiring days. 

Upon arrival to Haiti our senses were overwhelmed.  There was a distinct smell, few lights, and an abundance of new noises.  As we exited Port au Prince and neared Fond-des-Blanc, it was as if we were stepping back in time to a land more pure and in tune with itself.  The region held modern people with modern ideas in an ancient landscape.  The juxtaposition was poignant.  Women with the reigns to a donkey in one hand and child in the other spoke to men on motorcycles with cell phones.  It certainly was not what many of us expected.  The people seemingly tolerated us, but without the benefit of mutual language it was difficult to discern their spoken feelings.  We relied on body language and noticed many of the most beautiful smiles and welcoming gestures we’ve ever encountered.  The Haitians of Fond-des-Blanc evidently understood our mission.

Fond-des-Blanc is an agricultural region draped with the most breathtaking mountain scenery in the Caribbean and is a mere sixty miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  After traversing the dusty rugged roads we arrived at our destination and were met by Haitian native Jean Thomas and his American wife Joy.  From the beginning, our team extracted the most information we could in the allowable time from our like-languaged guides.  Upon arrival on the site, our hearts sank.  This was not the site we expected to see based on our rudimentary 2D plans.  The grading was steeper, the forests thicker, and the proportions much different than we had expected.  Our proposal, we soon realized, was not going to cut it. 

Dani and Pete presenting the initial site plan

After putting aside our apparent inability to fully understand the site through plan, we were charged with cataloging a series of panoramic views from eight distinct areas of the site.  Although the setting was serene, hiking to each location was far from a walk in the park.  Each area differed vastly from the others, even when the separation was only a few dozen yards.  The panoramas offer a rich montage of views.  These views will become increasingly important as we design the individual homes to populate our community.  While many were fully blocked or partially obstructed by thick Haitian vegetation, others offered sweeping vistas to the mountains beyond the mountains.  At the crest of our site, the tilled soil is shown in panorama as a sweeping plane uninterrupted except for the distant forest and a lone palm tree.  Approaching the confluence of the small stream (what we were told was a river), the ground could not be more different.  It is not only divided by water, but abruptly punctuated by cliff sides and steep rocky slopes.  In between the two are panoramas of thick forest, grown cactus fences, and rocky topsoil.  






Visit to Fond des Blancs



Our group’s cultural experience of Haiti was life changing. Coming from a country where everything is handed to you, then going to a country that doesn’t have much was a huge cultural shock. No running water to take showers daily, or even electricity to watch your favorite tv show, was a huge change. Time in Haiti was slow, where days in Haiti started and ended early, forcing you to manage your time wisely.  We ventured out every morning to walk and observe how the Haitians spent their days. The people of Haiti labor daily to collect water, tend livestock, and farm lands. We also took part in some of the Haitians daily rituals like bathing in the river, eating typical meals, and hiking the countryside. The aroma of Haiti was the smell of burnt charcoal. It filled the breezes on the mountaintop permeated the valleys. Haitians also take pride in the way they dress. Colorful ribbons and dresses, creased shirts and jeans, as well as name brand clothing. They carried themselves with self worth even though they had less than us.

Site Overview:

Observing our site in person was a necessity in order to fully understand the typography and scale. We were able to reconfirm that the front stretch of the site is ideal for commercial structures and multi-story dwellings. The land was already cleared for farming, which fits directly into our design proposal. We realized that the ridge had a much steeper slope than we had initially perceived and that some of our houses will need to be pulled back from the steep edge condition. The area that we proposed for the pavilion is already cleared out and is oriented perfectly for a communal space. We discussed the potential for developing split-level housing on the west portion of the site. This would allow for minimal terracing while taking advantage of the current views. This side will also be contingent on the ability to use part of phase two to allow for a road to access the site, providing a way for residents to bring their cars directly to their houses.

Site Analysis:

Our group was given the task of documenting the types of trees on the site. We noted the placement of significant trees that should be kept. Our main assignment was to take photographs of the leaves and bark of the trees that we did not know so that we can determine their species. The goal of this documentation of vegetation is to compile a palate of plants and trees that are native to the area that we can use for landscaping throughout our site. We were able to identify several palm trees, mango trees, and even an almond tree.