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Professor designs Haiti recovery

Chris Barnes | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Professor Tracy Kijewski-Correa has some powerful words of inspiration following her work with the Kellogg Institute in Haiti. “Listen, Innovate, Empower!” is the mantra of the group’s efforts to provide aid following the devastating earthquake which struck the island nation in January of 2010.

Kijewski-Correa gave a lecture titled “An Empowerment Model for Sustainable Residential Reconstruction in Léogâne, Haiti, after the January 2010 Earthquake” on Tuesday in the Hesburgh Center.

Kijewski-Correa, associate professor of civil engineering, spoke of a proposal she and her team of associates designed to construct personal residences within Haiti. She said engineers working on the project must listen to the needs of the Haitian people.

“This project relies on its workers to consider the preferences of the locals in constructing homes while upholding safety as a priority in construction,” Kijewski-Correa said. “Some may ask for a house built with the same type of brick that caused deaths (during the earthquake), to which an engineer must provide reliable alternatives.”

Throughout her talk, Kijewski-Correa identified resiliency, feasibility, sustainability and viability as the four main points in her proposal.

“Only through these four ways can we provide meaningful change for the poor of Haiti,” she said.

Kijewski-Correa said she understood the hazard and vulnerability that plagued the country following the earthquake would provide challenges to the work of her team.

“Under the theme of resiliency, my team and I must design types of homes that can weather future natural disasters,” said Kijewski-Correa. “The standard concrete blocks and columns of Haitian homes could not resist the demands of the earthquake, and many were killed by walls that split during the crisis.”

The country of Haiti does not have much to provide in terms of available capital for construction, Kijewski-Correa added.

“Steel is in high demand and is very expensive,” she said. “There is hardly any wood to work with, and a high tax on imports discourages traders from bringing any more into the country.”

Kijewski-Correa said that there is very little the Haitian people can do to provide themselves with a sustainable society to live in.

“When you put economics on the table, there really aren’t solutions at the bottom of the (social) pyramid,” she said.

There is importance in understanding the priorities and culture of the land in constructing homes, Kijewski-Correa said.

“Viability requires an understanding of the cultural context in which the locals live,” she said. “Solutions proposed by outside entities are not what the Haitians want, so our engineers should listen to them when they voice, for example, their fear of multi-story homes that results from the earthquake’s damage.”

Although Kijewski-Correa said there has been a lack of assistance from the local government, she remains optimistic that this project will be a success.

“Although the Haitian government does not provide any federal oversight of individual residence construction, we can control the quality of our product by means of standardization,” she said. “We want prototype houses there with strong networks.”

Although her project will start locally, Kijewski-Correa hopes the success of the project triggers worldwide expansion of the same model.

“We just want a proof of concept at this point,” she said. “However, solving this problem for the poor of Haiti by offering a sustainable, affordable housing model actually solves the problem of insufficient housing for the poor around the world, especially those living in urban slums.”