Sustainable Architecture and A Bit of Hope for Haiti

BlogHer Original Post

I am interested in living in a circular or dome shaped home. I like the idea of not living in a box. I researched the concept and found that there were companies that constructed geodesic and dome homes. The problem came when trying to figure out if a city or county would permit the building of a non-traditional home.

Depending where you live in the United States, it could be an uphill fight. Even if you could prove that the home was built to withstand hurricane, fire, or earthquake conditions, it could be denied a permit. If the structure was not in the building codes book or there was no one on staff capable of evaluating the viability, it wasn't going to be built.

Arizona Dome Home

If I somehow made it past code enforcement bureaucrats then there would be the neighbors. You can't forget about the NIMBYs, - not in my back yard, city or county people who want to maintain the area as they currently know it. NIMBYs do have the right to speak up about anything that could affect the value in their homes.

Home owners certainly should have a say as to the look of their environment or to maintain a stylistic cultural heritage. Yet there are times when NIMBYs can be as dogmatic as a political bureaucrat; no change unless it is in my direct vested interest to do so. 

Environmentally speaking, holding on to traditional building techniques can be dangerous. No, I'm not talking about climate change.

I'm talking about building square and rectangular wood homes in areas know for fires. Or building a home on stilts next to the ocean is not such a good idea. Not to say that you can't build a home near a coastline but the needs of the environment should probably take more precedence than design considerations.

Yet we continue to re-build the same old boxes. It is very easy to find video of people vowing to rebuild their homes exactly as they were before the tremblers, tornados and storms of the century. Do we really need to make the same mistakes over and over again?

What Is Sustainable Architecture?

According to the Living with Nature web site:

We define sustainable architecture (often referred to as "green" architecture) as buildings that incorporate materials and practices that, at a minimum, have lower impact on the environment than conventional materials and practices.

Sand, Sun and Architecture for Humanity

Carina at CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities blog gave me a glimpse into why the buildings fell as the did in Haiti:

Much of the built environment was lacking structurally sound components. Buildings with too much sand in the concrete mix were the norm. Reinforcement beams were scarce.

As a person who lives in earthquake country, I understand about retrofitting, re-enforcement and being aware of a building's composition. You really pay attention when the freeway near you shows a crack or two more than you think necessary. I don’t want to imagine a place where human lives were traded for short term financial advantage. Sadly, I don’t have to, that is the reality.

Carina's focus of her post was on building upon the solar energy potential of Haiti and transitioning from petroleum usages when possible. There is an opportunity to build according to the needs of the island and the environment. 

Carina’s post also introduced me to Architecture for Humanity.

I encourage you to read the long term plan to assist in Haiti’s reconstruction. On first glance I’m thinking “Yes, let’s do this.” On the second read through I question "How are you going to do this with the distance between resources, assistance and institutionalized neglect?”

The questions come faster and faster with concerns about colonialism vs. the “sh*t has hit the fan, do something!”  Can they get large scale cooperation from a traumatized community or is this just going to be big promises with one or two demonstration homes as a best result?

I do not want to make light of the enormous reconstruction that will have to occur in Haiti. Given a choice, a square roof will do much better than no roof at all. There are also governmental pressures and predatory opportunists to contend within the mist of that situation.

Still, my heart leans toward the dreamers that create. Maybe we can put some of the questions off to the side and be willing to see a different path. Not a quick fix but a plan that respects the environment, the people and the vision.

I’m ready. How about you?

Other Readings about Architecture, Design and Sustainability

Anne Thorpe of Design Activism writes about how design can be used to move folks closer to reduced consumption and re-visioning use.

Marjanne Pearson at Next Moon blog deals with design ideas as it pertains to architects, engineers and marketing concerns.

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer CE. Blogs:Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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