Students work on homes for Haiti

21st May 2010

Architecture students at Oxford Brookes University have helped to develop a prototype shelter for victims of the Haiti earthquake.

Students work on homes for Haiti

The 'hurricane-resistant home' was developed by lecturer Bill Flinn, who then led five architecture students in building the structure at the university’s Gipsy Lane campus over two days. He said: "A civil engineer in Haiti got in touch and asked us to have a look at a design they were proposing. We reckoned there were some improvements that could be made quite easily and quite cheaply."

The exact number of people who died in the earthquake in Haiti in January is not known, but is estimated to be in excess of 200,000. A further 300,000 people are thought to have been injured and more than a million people have been left homeless – with the hurricane season approaching.

Mr Flinn said the structure would be able to withstand wind speeds in excess of 100mph. The strength comes from hurricane strappings – metal straps – which join the panels together, and are 10 times stronger than nailing pieces in place. Cross bracing, where diagonal supports connect the corners of the panels, has also been used to further toughen the structure.

But Mr Flinn pointed out that it was important for the shelters to be built on top of strong foundations. The frame would then be covered with salvaged materials. An instruction manual has been produced using photographs of the frame which explains effective building techniques.

It was handed out to architects, surveyors and engineers as part of a week-long course entitled Shelter After Disaster. The course was run at the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice at Brookes, in association with the Enhanced Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance initiative. It was co-funded by the charity Save the Children UK.

Mr Flinn said: "The idea is not to sell this particular design but to promote the idea of well-engineered construction". "People are talking about the need for these houses to last for three years. This means they will have to bear the brunt of three hurricane seasons – but experience tells us they could be in use for much longer than predicted."

The shelter is designed to be easily taken apart and moved around, and can be built easily by people with minimal training. Mr Flinn said: "This is what academic institutes should be about – providing a link between academia and practical uses. I hope that we have given the people of Haiti a better chance of surviving the hardships of coming years. From the point of the view of the students, it has been brilliant because they are actually building something – and also thinking about architecture not just as polished buildings but something which is humble, simple, straightforward but extremely valuable".

This news item is based on an original article written by Fran Bardsley published in the Oxford Mail online.