The Eighteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2016
Berkeley Prize 2016

Atianna Cordova Travel Fellowship Report

Haiti, May 2016


“if we want to see change, we have to change our minds” -anonymous


My deepest gratitude goes to the individuals and families that welcomed me into their beloved Haiti. I will cherish the soul gratifying conversations, pain induced belly laughs, and indescribable adventures for lifetimes to come. Your stories- your resiliency will forever be etched in my heart.

Thank you to the Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence for this opportunity of engagement and encouraging discussions involving the social art of architecture.

This truly was an “eksperyans inoublyab.”  









Research Intention

When choosing Haiti for my Travel Fellowship opportunity, I was eager to examine the recovery efforts of a developing country and the role of culture in sustaining a community post-disaster. Similar to Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian Earthquake left many residents homeless and continues to leave members of economically vulnerable communities banished. With the nineteenth and twentieth century ties that bind Haiti and New Orleans, with similar and almost identical cultural elements, LSU’s Academic Study Abroad Program, “Haiti: Cultural Sustainability” offered a viable opportunity to learn about the sheltering strategies/resources that have been employed to assist those affected by the 2010 earthquake.

Methodology and Interviewees

Beneficially, one of the aims of the program was to conduct ethnographic field work in Jacmel, Haiti, which served as the primary technique to address my research interests. This involved engaging in dialogues pertaining to the earthquake with locals, and conducting interviews with community members and personnel from non-governmental organizations (NGO) to understand the pre and post- living conditions of the area, the recovery schemes used and the impact it had on the people affected.     

With this objective, I was able to interview three individuals. This included a university administrator (Speaker 1), a pastor, who served as the director of a combined school and orphanage (Speaker 2), and a NGO worker who had been working in Haiti since the earthquake (Speaker 3). Speakers 1 and 2 spoke briefly and generally about the current conditions of Jacmel; and Speaker 3 elaborated on the past/current living conditions and his direct involvement in a building project since the earthquake. A camera, voice recorder and scripts were used to complete the interview conversations.  


During my first interview, I spoke with Speaker 1 who is a local of Jacmel and a community historian. He was living in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake, and expressed frustration towards the worsened living conditions and the lack of recovery assistance. He continued by saying, “we live in a city where we rely on the government to do everything, but the government isn’t doing anything.” Although our interview was brief, it was apparent that Speaker 1 had lost hope in the government and other institutions to aid in recovery efforts. Many times, he stated it was up to the people to “fix [their] current conditions and build [their] communities,” which was a sentiment voiced by other community members as well.    

During my second interview, I spoke with Speaker 2 who is a local of Jacmel and a noted community advocate for education and helping those in need. After the earthquake, his school suffered severe damage, which he attributed to poor building construction. During recovery efforts, Speaker 2 acknowledged the importance of partaking in the design process with engineers and contractors to create a new building that could accommodate his students and endure future disasters. When asked about any special considerations that were made to ensure this, he stated that the primary focus was to simply build the building well. If this was done, all else would fall into place. Speaker 2 continued by saying that many of the buildings in the city aren’t built properly, which contributes to their short life-span and destruction. By working with professionals, he emphasized that he was able to become educated on the proper materials and construction methods to use, which resulted in a sound project.    

During my last interview, I spoke with Speaker 3, a Frenchman who currently lives in Jacmel. For the last six years, he has been working with a NGO to help rebuild homes and assist in community development projects for the area. Currently, he has been involved in three phases of construction. During the first phase beginning in June 2010, he worked in the countryside building under strict deadlines to accommodate approximately 1,500 displaced residents. The types of damage from the earthquake varied in degree since some structures received partial damage and others needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. Inclusively, the NGO was able to provide concrete homes to over 200 people. However, Speaker 3 stated that the architectural integrity was compromised to appease the need for housing at the time and many residents did not stay in the buildings. He clarified that structures made completely of concrete are consistently hot and make residents feel uncomfortable. From these developments, he learned that although the need for shelter was addressed temporarily, it is imperative to use climate appropriate materials to produce better buildings and comfortable spaces.

During the second phase of construction, Speaker 3 says that their focus was to properly build homes that could endure future disasters. Applying the lessons learned from phase one, this was accomplished by teaching residents the apt ways to build with certain materials. For example, typically, the roofs of the concrete homes were made with concrete and sand. However, during this phase of construction, they decided to use an iron-like substance, which can withstand more environmental impacts. This material, he elaborated, is much lighter and allows more air circulation in the home, unlike the sand and concrete mixture. Overall, this is much more pleasing to the residents. During the third phase of construction, Speaker 3 said that they continued to build the roof using the iron-like substance, but decided to incorporate more cultural ties to the homes (i.e. symbols, flags, colors, etc.) as suggested by the residents, which pays homage to the long-standing and emerging cultural presence in Haiti. 










Generally, the information gathered from speaking with these interviewees provided me with beneficial insight on Jacmel’s current state of recovery. Speaker 1 was not directly involved in a recovery project, but agreed with Speaker 2 and 3 that the community’s involvement in the recovery efforts is vital. Speaker 2 and 3 shared the ideology that, specifically in vulnerable areas, the longevity of a building is largely reliant on the knowledge of material properties and correct assemblage. Additionally, Speaker 3 acknowledged the learning process that took place in his three construction phases. He shared that working with the community and investing time to understand their needs really made the difference throughout their process and produced better quality homes for the residents. In the future, he said that their NGO will progressively become less prevalent to allow space for the community to use the skillsets learned to sustain their own homes. This was an interesting approach that empowered the community to contribute to their own recovery efforts.   

Ultimately, visiting Haiti has provided me with a great since of affirmation in pursuing a career that addresses the role of design in humanitarian aid. Being able to interact with community members and students from different backgrounds emphasized how important interdisciplinary collaboration is to developing viable solutions for communities in need.


Until next time… 


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