Industry veteran to lead AHS' re-building efforts in Haiti

| by John Johnson
Industry veteran to lead AHS' re-building efforts in Haiti

In the months since a devastating 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti in January 2010, killing over 300,000 and destroying much of the island’s infrastructure, the recovery process has taken a backseat. The media has shifted its focus to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the stumbling U.S. economy and the financial crisis in Europe.

Yet, the crisis lingers in Haiti, a country desperate to rebuild itself and resume anything close to a normalcy after 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed in the quake. Stacey McMahan, a principal and Green Studio Director at Koch Hazard Architects, is the latest from the green industry to step up to the plate.

In July, McMahan was named Architecture for Humanity’s Sustainable Design Fellow to lead AFH’s sustainable rebuilding efforts in Haiti. She will work directly with community members on the ground in Architecture for Humanity’s Rebuilding Center based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, focusing on green strategies for both the commercial and residential re-building of Haiti.

Through the Sustainable Design Fellow program, McMahan will work collaboratively with a team of design and construction professionals, countless volunteers and leaders of the local government to ensure that the reconstruction is based upon the key principles of green building, including high-performance, structural integrity, higher energy and water efficiency and better ventilation quality.

While preparing for her one-year stay in Haiti, which will begin on Aug. 9, McMahan took some time to speak with to discuss what her role will be in Haiti, and what the position means to her personally.

 Can you describe some of the initial duties you will tackle upon arriving inPort-au-Prince?

“Well, there are several things that I’ll be working on, but a lot of it will have to do with upgrading the quality of construction to be more earth-quake resistant and that type of thing. And on the green side of things, to discover and define what sustainability actually means in Haiti because that will be very different than what green building is here in the U.S.

“It will also be important to provide tools and training for safe and sustainable construction both to the informal trades and by increasing local professional capacity through training and assistance as a path to mitigating similar building failures in the future.”

 Talk about what this assignment means to you personally.

“Haiti has experienced an architectural disaster. Many times you hear about an environmental disaster, but this is an architectural disaster. So the people best suited to help with that are the people who have worked in architecture. Witnessing the incredible devastation in Port-au-Prince, it’s only natural that hope is a rare amenity among the citizens of Haiti. The timing in my life was right to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to use my skills and experience for the good of others, and in that respect I also became aware that it was not enough to remain a bystander.”

How will your past experience in architecture and in green help on your mission?

“I’m diving into an adventure of a lifetime. My year there may be short or long, but I plan to use this opportunity to meet a lot of people, make many connections, and do what I can in furthering the idea and practice of building with sustainable strategies in urban Haiti. My experience with LEED has transformed the way I look at buildings and the process of building – it is an incredible tool.”

Do you expect that new buildings in Haiti will conform to LEED standards, or is simply re-building Haiti a big enough priority?

"I’ve already inquired about [the possibility] of LEED building…that is probably something I could accomplish because I know the LEED system so well. But it would likely take up lot of energy and time, and I’m not sure if my time there would be used best that way. It might be more important to get buildings up the way they should go up, making sure they are not just thrown up quickly.”

At the same time, I would imagine certain LEED practices such as local sourcing can be utilized?

“Sustainability in the U.S. typically refers to energy efficiency, using less water, using materials that are found locally or regionally instead of tile from China. In terms of materials, another element of sustainability in Haiti will be to find a way to use more resources that they have right there. In the U.S., wood frame construction is common and we have wood available to us as a original resource in most locations. In Haiti, the island is 90 percent deforested, so anything with wood in it has to be imported and it’s very expensive.”

What are some of the biggest challenges as Haiti is re-built?

“When you think of the buildings we have in the U.S., they are very technical and there are a lot of components. They have lots of moving parts and systems and we have heating and cooling, plumbing, running water, electricity. Most of the buildings in Haiti have electricity -- maybe -- so their building type is much simple than ours. It’s very simple. They may have running water and probably have electricity, and so they might have fans to push air around. But it’s going to be a rare building that will have a heating and cooling system in Haiti.”

Topics: Cost of Ownership, Heating & Cooling, Insulation

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