The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and HOK are partnering on Project Haiti, a facility to replace a Port-au-Prince orphanage and children's center devastated by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti and killed 316,000 people two years ago.
The new orphanage will be built to LEED Platinum standards and will provide a home for the children at the Fondation Enfant Jesus orphanage and children's center. The orphanage is part of the Clinton Global Initiative, which convenes global leaders to create innovative solutions to the world's most urgent challenges.
"The challenge — to design, build and operate a highly sustainable project that will help these Haitian children — is an amazing opportunity," said HOK Director of Sustainable Design Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C. "We are creating a replicable, living textbook of sustainable design tailored to the Haitian culture that we hope will influence the future of architecture in the region."
The main three-story, L-shaped structure is organized around a central courtyard –– a focal point for the orphanage's social life. It is flanked by kitchen, dining and training spaces. The design responds to the dense urban condition and prevailing easterly trade winds by organizing all the spaces around a courtyard facing east. As with the vernacular "Gingerbread" style of Haiti, the building rises around this courtyard and features deep outdoor balconies.
"Our goal is to create a nurturing and restorative place," said HOK's Thomas Knittel, AIA, LEED AP, design leader in the firm's Seattle studio. "We are striving for net zero water and waste, and for the building to provide a net positive energy source."
The design of the building massing, orientation, openings and materials take full advantage of passive design principles to provide a healthy, comfortable environment. Building systems will require minimal maintenance and provide independence from the city's unreliable power grid. They will harness excess energy to power street lights and public charging stations on the street.
"Creating a healthy, safe environment for children is the most important work we can do in the green building industry, and Project Haiti Orphanage and Children's Center is about helping the children of Haiti who are facing ongoing devastation following the earthquake that took place two years ago," said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council. "We are deeply honored to have HOK's support as the committed design partner for Project Haiti. They bring incredible expertise that will allow us to create a replicable, resilient model for rebuilding that can be replicated throughout the world."
HOK's design team is integrating biomimicry to create a locally attuned and responsive building solution. The building references the local Kapok tree, both in the branching support system of the balcony system and the low emissivity, heat-shedding characteristics of its second skin.
The below-grade area will serve as the building's "roots," cleaning and storing water and recycling nutrients from waste into biogas for cooking. The first three stories will function as the structure's "trunk." Protecting the building like tree bark, a "boundary layer" will shield exterior walkways and vertical surfaces from direct sunlight while allowing for daylighting and natural ventilation. Rooftop gardens will serve as the "foliage," supporting the solar energy system and providing additional green space.
To guarantee a safe water supply, HOK's team designed a closed-loop system that collects, treats and stores water on the site. A biodigester will treat the waste and provide gas for cooking.
Security is important in Port-au-Prince. Visitors will enter through a series of thresholds: from public, to semi-private, to private space. The design includes a safe zone that will protect residents during natural disasters.
To promote Haiti's rich artistic heritage, the design team will use local materials and artwork, especially ironwork, murals and woodwork crafted by local artisans.
Established in 2003, Fondation Enfant Jesus is a non-government, non-denominational charitable organization that operated the original orphanage on the building site. The construction site and currently condemned orphanage is located in Del Mas, Rue Fernand de Baudiere, in Port-au-Prince.
Teena Hammond /
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.