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. 

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Entries in site design (7)


Site Design

    The class held a inner-studio design competition for the overall site plan for the housing project in Fond des Blancs. Three of the teams had very similar concepts and initial ideas for the site plan. The teams combined to form Team C. We collaborated and combined alike concepts and ideas, and discussed issues of contradiction.

    We found ourselves asking the question: How do we introduce american advantages into a haitian culture? Conceptually, we were striving to improve the quality of Haitian life without creating a gap between the Haitian needs in Fond des Blancs and American design. The most effective way that we determined to accomplish our goal was to design in context -not in concept. We analyzed local resources, construction methods, and the culture in Fond des Blancs. Our analysis lead us to a list of  physical "absolutes", "grey areas", and "off limits" design principals. We focused on responding to preexisting site conditions, the interests of Jean and Joy, and bringing quality to our overall design.

    We faced many obstacles attempting to graph ourselves into the culture in order to understand Haitian design. As a team, we recognized that our design is intended to be an alternative to urban living. While our site is located in rural Haiti, we utilized program gradation across the site and strong community emphasis for locating public, semi-private, and private zones. The public area is located adjacent to the road. Traveling into the site, you experience the transitions through building proximity and open space.

    While traveling in Haiti, we observed many variations of organic growth in Haitian dwellings. We documented the tent cities in Port au Prince and the small family homes in the mountains. Our site plan embodied the organic growth, relationships, and proximities of Haitian buildings. As a team, we felt that the design concept and the realities of Haitian design were composed in a simple and orderly final site plan.



Final Site Design Proposal

Final Site Plan

In designing a site proposal, our new team wanted to synthesize the strengths of our previous schemes. This amalgamation of concepts, drivers and priorities eventually yielded a site plan that would be practical, beautiful and functional. Above all, we wanted to design according to the human scale, ensuring a meaningful connection between the inhabitants of this development and the built environment. While many things drove our design, there were three concepts that impacted decisions more than others. First, to create a strong sense of community; second, to provide a sense of order that is easily understood and clearly recognizable; and third, to design universally, allowing all people to utilize every feature of the site.

Courtyard PerspectiveThe shared courtyard was the primary avenue with which community was emphasized. We believe that every community needs a tool to enhance social interaction, and that this interaction is necessary and beneficial for every resident. An elongated courtyard ensures a relationship to the pedestrian path that winds through the site, thus connecting the residents to others that may not live within their cluster of homes. By placing the main entrance to the home on the inside of the courtyard, social interaction is optimized and community is created.

 Order vs Organic

We recognized that in a nation that has just experienced tragedy, creating a sense of order would be paramount. Often times, the perception of order is equated with security and safety, so we sought to develop a clearly organized, rigidly executed site plan with one moment of break from that system. The streets (vehicular circulation) were forced to snap to a grid that established the footprint of our blocks, while the pedestrian path to the west of the homes was allowed to break that geometry and follow the natural topography of the land. This breaking of the system allowed for ultimate convenience while one moves through the site. The organic pedestrian path was not a matter of preference, but one of convenience and livability. We sought to create a development that catered to the everyday lives and activities of its residents, rather than to the chance visit by a passerby.

Pedestrian Bridge

In order to allow the development to be utilized by the maximum number of people, we decided that universal design would need to be decision driver. As mentioned earlier, the organic pedestrian pathway was a response to convenience and livability, because half of this development will be inhabited by Ex-patriots who are returning to Haiti to retire. This meant that minimal elevation change along walkways and paths was absolutely essential. The easiest and most inexpensive way to accomplish this was to allow the path to follow the natural topography of the land, creating the organic shape seen above. This ideology was even carried into the design of the footbridge that will span the stream that cuts the site in two. It connects the two points on site that have the least elevation change, allowing for ease of access and continual usage. In addition, the elevated bridge allows for phenomenal views and an unparalleled experience within the site.

These values are not only crucial to a successful masterplan of the site, but are also crucial to the design of the individual homes. Ultimately, our duty is to serve people as best we can. By recognizing exactly what people need and desire in a home, we are able to respond through design and create a space that will be livable, beautiful and enjoyable.


Gallery of Presentation Drawings and Key Images


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









Design Proposal: 1 Week Charette

Research and Precedent

To begin our process of exploring and designing, we chose 2 places to compare/contrast that had an attractive quality to locals and visitors. We researched Cherokee Boulevard in Knoxville, TN, and the Highline in New York City, NY.  Why are people attracted to these areas? What defines these spaces?  The Highline’s green space is defined by the existing, once operating rail road tracks elevated 30 feet above the streets of NY. It demonstrates compression and release in the paving patterns and green spaces.  People seek out this space in the midst of the NYC chaos to relax and unwind.  Cherokee Boulevard’s green space is defined by trees, water, and cliffs.  The compression and release is created in the gravel path down the center of the boulevard that releases out into intersections, fountains and open areas preserved for recreation. People are attracted to this area for the open spaces as well as relaxing atmosphere. We were able to use this research for future development of the project. We used the ideas of what gave the spaces their attractiveness by creating smaller areas within the site for people to gather.

Cherokee Boulevard, Knoxville, TN. Central walking trailHighline, New York City, NY.

In addition to researching gathering places, we researched a community redevelopment project in order to better understand the process of community reconstruction. The project we researched was Monwabisi Park, Cape Town, South Africa. We focused on the second phase of the project (not yet underway) which is the housing. We learned that the method of Earthbag construction was a great fit for that community because of their natural resources and easy labor method of building these Earthbag houses.

We wanted to take the concept of natural resources and apply it to our project proposal, in terms of using mostly readily available materials and methods for easy and less expensive construction. Our proposal consists of using locally made CMU with some wood for roof tresses. 


Design Proposal

Before our journey to Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti, each of the 7 teams, over the course of a week, came up with an overall community plan, given the site parameters. This included placement of roads, housing, detailed floor plans, existing elements, bridges, etc. We were equipped with information from Jean via a Skype interview where he gave us his ideas for the housing project. The purpose of this exercise was to begin brainstorming ideas for design as well as to have presentation material for Jean and Joy Thomas (the developers of this project) while in Haiti.

Our team's presentation to Jean and Joy Thomas in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti

The principle behind our design was to create organization out of chaos.  We achieved organization by setting each housing unit 12 feet from the road and 15 feet off the left side of the property line of each unit. 

First draft site plan proposal

Although the overall plan is free flowing, the placement of each dwelling unifies and creates organization and stability.  Each unit is designed with a porch facing a connecting path or road in the community.  This conscious arrangement, of unit and porch, encourages social interaction between neighbors and passersby. 

We utilized approximately 60% of the footprint for indoor space with the remaining 40% for outdoor, although this varies with the different housing types (1-4 bedroom houses). 

We also utilized a sawtooth type roofing system to allow light into more areas of the house while also providing additional ventilation.  




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.