Design Line: Haiti SOFTHOUSE Project

20 Feb

photo courtesy of Haiti SOFTHOUSEgroup, LLC

The Haiti Softhouse project launched a pilot program to create four housing units in Haiti by the summer time. Deutsche Bank has granted $50,000 to mass produce these light, modular homes. They utilize steel frames and durable fabric exteriors, all designed to stand strong against natural disasters, including tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes.

TheSOFTHOUSE group is working with The Rural Haiti Project, to secure a location in Jacmel, Haiti, to create the first SOFTHOUSE village. Ultimately, the goal is to transfer design and fabrication expertise to local manufacturers, thus stimulating the Haitian economy, as well as providing a transitional solution. SOFTHOUSE communities buy time to envision long-term rebuilding strategies. As long as people remain displaced from their original homes, there’s powerful potential here. The structures can be mounted directly into the ground with high-strength earth anchors in a variety of soil conditions. Another option is to anchor them onto a prefab concrete base structured from concrete rubble leftover from the earthquake. Both durability and sustainability are of grave importance, since much of the 2010 earthquake’s deadly damage was caused by the weak structures of buildings and homes.

“We are trying to get the pilot off the ground,” said Mr. Rodney Leon, project manager of Haiti SOFTHOUSE. “If we can get them made in the thousands, then they can be manufactured cheaply for a couple thousand dollars each.”

Fort Greene’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) presented project plan mockups of these transitional shelters in the “Le Projet Nouveau” exhibit, which features the work of artists re-imagining Haiti a year after the earthquake.

Re-Imaging Haiti will be at MoCADA through May 8.

A video with Mr. Leon discussing the need for focusing on solutions to the crisis of shelter in Haiti:

Below: The project plan outlines the tools, time, and people power needed. It’s as simple as having the softhouse, 1 adjustable wrench, 2 socket wrenches, a 10-ft ladder and a 6-ft ladder, and four volunteers.



4 Responses to “Design Line: Haiti SOFTHOUSE Project”

  1. Alexis February 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    What’s the “Rural Haiti Project”? And are they good or bad?

    This Softhouse has a nice poster, but what is the significance? You know a house could be made from cardboard or straw or brick and steel. This one is made from fabric–but there is no plumbing and no sewage so it is still a tent! An architect-designed tent is surely different than a UN-issued tent–but nothing on the project site gets into how or Why–rather it uses language to avoid the fact that this “softhouse” is still a tent. Considering there are already fabric yurts and geodesic domes in artisanal/small batch production (made with expensive US labor) that available for $2K-5K, where will all the money go if they “have them mass produced” and they still cost “a couple thousand dollars?” Manufacturing them close-by with famously exploited Hatian labor, why aren’t they hoping to manufacture them for a few HUNDRED dollars?

    Hopefully the price difference is because they are not planning on exploiting “local labor and expertise”–but hope is generally wrong on that count. Subsidizing the development of a factory for the manufacture of “The Rhizome Collection” is another place where the $$$ could be going. Check it out:

    Certainly could be built in the same factory as the Softhouse. (And China is so far from the Caribbean!)

    • nandininessa February 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Alexis.
      I completely agree that the softhouse tent should be a few hundred dollars, and a high price tag runs the risk of exploiting Haitian labor.
      When I checked out the MoCADA exhibit, the mock ups from the HaitiSoftHouse group presented this as a short-term, transitional housing plan. My initial reaction was “circus tent”
      It’s quite bright, fancy, and GREEN.

  2. Jacqmel February 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Read further into this if you will. This is not some simple tent that is like the others. Yes, this is a fabric home, and no, it does not provide built in plumbing. What it does provide is true shelter from the elements and is rated to withstand up to category 3 hurricanes. The tents and makeshift structures that the folks there have been using for shelter would never be able to last, but this is an option that gives them a chance to start moving in the right direction. As for the cost, I would think the cost is primarily coming from the materials. You have a metal structure that is built and then you have a specific fabric that has been tested and proven to withstand the elements that are faced by the people. Those materials are not inexpensive by any means.

    • nandininessa February 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

      It’s a good point to discuss the cost of materials. In fact, Mr. Rodney Leon is trying to match the $50,000 Deustch Bank grant, and in doing so, hopefully costs can be saved.

      Thanks for the discussion guys.

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