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 team work (3)


Reflecting on the Haiti experience

Looking back over the semester-long project, we realize what a great experience it has been! We knew from the beginning that we would be stepping outside of our normal realm of thought into another culture, another land, and another world. 

Our visit to Haiti was invaluable. It played a key element in understanding the culture and life of Haitian people. Surveying the site, visiting market, and interacting with community members gave us a more clear understanding of who we were designing for. Our greatest challenge was proposing schematic design to Joy and Jean Thomas before having been to Haiti to see the site first hand. None-the-less, we worked hard to create a holistic design and presented it to them in Haiti. Having them as a constant contact for the project was extremely helpful in our design process.

We felt humbled after our visit to Fond-des-Blancs and were even more eager to begin designing for the Haitian people. We wanted to connect with their thoughts, their fears, and use that to drive our design.  

One of the best parts about this project was the diversity in scale. We started off designing the entire site, including public gathering spaces, roadways, walk ways, etc. Once a site plan was finally worked out, we began designing individual houses. This led us to the smallest of details, including millwork drawings and material finishes. This range of scales allowed us to think on multiple levels of design. We had previously not thought holistically about site design.

Overall, the "Urban Alternative" Haiti experience was priceless to our education. It challenged us to immerse ourselves in a very unfamiliar culture and design for what they would see as attractive and valuable. As much of a challenge as it was, it was also a blessing. While we still have many years to continue learning design, this experience has aided in our education and overall wellbeing to become better designers and better people.


A Semester's Journey

This semester was a great experience for all of us. The trip to Haiti, of course, was an immense eye opener.  We were able to see, for ourselves, the Haitian culture, beautiful landscape, and the effects of natural disaster. The class challenged us in new ways, brought us together as classmates and teams, and allowed us to have a different sense of pride in our work.  


The challenges presented were unlike anything in previous studios. We had a very limited material palette to work with, but we strived to use materials in new and innovative ways, such as wicker doors and iron kitchen cabinet doors.  Another challenge we worked hard to overcome was the provision of ventilation and lighting.  To minimize the usage of electricity, we established designs that would allow for passive cross ventilation and, in some areas, stack ventilation.  In addition, the strategic placement of windows, made of vent block and wicker, gives the house passive lighting.


Normally our studio projects are completed individually.  This was probably everyone’s first experience working in a group setting.  It was challenging at times, agreeing and dividing up the work evenly, but it gave us a sense of what it will be like to work in a firm.  It also seemed to bring us closer together, working with Interior Design students and Graduate students.


The end result, we feel, gives us a different sense of pride than our normal final projects.  This one is a gift to other people to enrich the lives of those who need it most.  We also feel accomplished, designing a house that will suit Haiti very well, as far as function and aesthetics.  To see the houses built and possibly meet those living in them would give a sense of accomplishment like no other.


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.