Hope for Haiti Kickoff Introduces Plan to House 1000 People in Haiti in 100 Days

March 25 Press Conference Brings Together Press, Boston Community, MIT, Volunteers and More

  March 25, 2010 •  Dana Morgenstein, Boston Press Coordinator

Cambridge, MA –  The Renaissance Project – Hope for Haiti received a warm welcome from the Boston press and community at a press conference that introduced an ambitious plan to provide shelter for a thousand people displaced by the earthquake, and provide a model for sustainable settlements in Haiti and throughout the world.

After a brief introduction and a summary of goals by co-founder Gerthy Lahens, Prof. Jan Wampler gave a detailed presentation of what the sustainable farming village in Arcahaie will look like, including descriptions of the main buildings, and energy and water sources, and introduced two members of his team of students, Amanda Levesque and Ira Winder, who gave brief statements on their dedication to the project.

“It’s my hope that this is the beginning of a new era of idealism among young architects,” said Winder.

Ms. Levesque also introduced the Renaissance Project web site, which now features information for donors who wish to send checks. A PayPal link is being developed as well.

Attendees included representatives from the Boston City Councilor’s office, the Center for Evolutionary Leadership, Channel 26, the MIT Green Hub, the Cambridge Chronicle, and more.

Man with a plan

Having helped Turkey, New Orleans, and Honduras rebuild after natural disasters, architect and MIT professor Jan Wampler, 70, heads to Haiti.

March 21, 2010 •  Ron Fletcher, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine

Your plan? A self-sustainable village in Arcahaie, about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Last year, my team and I began designing a place that provides shelter, medical treatment, education, an arts center, farming, job training, a cafeteria, and government offices. With the number of people fleeing Port-au-Prince, shelter is now priority one. Plus, we’re in a race against the rainy season. Our goal is to house 1,000 people after 100 days of building.

Why rural Arcahaie? Port-au-Prince never provided a great quality of life for its people. It’s time for a new model. We have to abandon the Industrial Revolution idea of needing to be in a city to prosper. The Internet can create a global village. With it, you can get an education, learn a trade, and sell goods from a place that offers the sort of community and cost of living a city can’t. I’ve seen that model work in Ecuador, Turkey, India.

When do you break ground? As soon as we can. We’re working to organize volunteers and students in Boston and in Haiti. The catalyst and my partner for this project, Gerthy Lahens, has used her ties to Haiti, her homeland, to organize engineers, architects, and builders in Arcahaie. She proves what I’ve seen throughout the world: It’s the women who get things done.

How much will it cost? About half a million dollars to start. I’m optimistic we’ll raise it; my experience has shown that people will give to a specific project with a specific goal, particularly when the project is ground-up, local, and self-sustainable -- not something flown in from the US or elsewhere.

Self-sustainable how? In terms of building materials and resources: solar panels, reusable rainwater, sewage converted to fertilizer, rammed-earth blocks -- not the reinforced concrete we saw in most toppled buildings in Port-au-Prince. And bamboo, a great renewable resource for deforested Haiti. The long-run issue is how to help Haiti become a more prosperous place.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

Press Conference Thursday, March 25 On Response to Haiti Tragedy:

One Hundred Days to House One Thousand People
Boston Activists, MIT and Harvard Staff and Students Collaborate with People of Haiti To Build Sustainable Farming Village

 March 2, 2010 •  Dana Morgenstein, Boston Press Coordinator

Cambridge, MA – The Renaissance Project – Hope For Haiti will be speaking to the press on Thursday, March 25 at 10AM, announcing a project responding to one of the most urgent needs of the Haitian people displaced by the devastating earthquake in January: shelter during the rainy season. The conference will take place at MIT, at 77 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, in the AVT (room 7-431, fourth floor).

The Renaissance Project will build a sustainable farming village in Arcahaie, just north of Port-au-Prince and outside of the earthquake zone. With cost estimated at $500,000-$750,000, the village could shelter 1000 people, provide jobs, education, and health facilities, and bring hope and pride to this devastated island nation – and with immediate action, the settlement could be built in only 100 days.

The project is a collaboration between local Haitian activist and MIT research fellow Gerthy Lahens and MIT Professor Jan Wampler, as well as the students of the Haiti Workshop and a local advisory committee of MIT and Harvard staff and local activists. At the conference, Prof. Wampler will present a summary of the project, including scope, execution and costs, and Ms. Lahens and other team members will present more details on the project, and the situation in Haiti. A brief Q&A session will follow.

“The emphases should be placed on building small communities to help with the overflow of people from Port-au-Prince, to act as a center for providing housing as well as a new sustainable model for the future,” said Prof. Wampler in a recent email. “This is a sad opportunity to try to help in a new way.”

In addition to housing, the village will serve as a center for education and to teach sustainable farming techniques. It will include a school; dormitories; vegetable gardens; centers for health, community, and the arts; a water tower and irrigation system; a computer center; and more. Farming in the settlement will provide food for the settlement, and enough additional food to sell to people in the surrounding community.

Prior to the conference, Prof. Wampler will be kicking off publicity for the Renaissance Project with a brief Q&A in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, going to press March 21.


Lifting the poor with sustainable design

MIT architect aids village in Haiti

 January 25, 2009  •  Ron Fletcher, Boston Globe Correspondent

Cambridge, MA -When architect Jan Wampler arrives in Haiti next month to share with the people of Arcahaie his model for a sustainable village, he will break a self-imposed rule that has guided his international work for more than 35 years: meet with people in their space before drawing a single line.

That decision demonstrates how much trust the acclaimed MIT professor has in Gerthy Lahens, a local Haitian activist who serves as catalyst, liaison, and organizer for the village project. The two got together recently in Wampler's campus office to look at plans for the village, update the four undergraduates with whom they are working and traveling, and discuss the latest trials in a country bedeviled by poverty, deforestation, natural disasters, political unrest, and limited resources. It is a country whose irrepressible spirit Wampler, a Jamaica Plain resident, sees embodied by Lahens, who lives in Roxbury.

"Everywhere I go - every continent, every country - it's the women of the world who are organizing to change it for the better, not the men," said Wampler. "Gerthy proves the point. My students and I need her to make this happen. I'm confident that she is the sort of resource and inspiration who will allow us to take this unusual first step of designing before visiting."

Lahens, 56, a former MIT research fellow and mother of an alumna, has a six-year history of partnering with professors and students at the institute for the betterment of her homeland. Past projects include purifying water, building a school, aiding fishing villages, and providing computer training. The scope of this project, though, would seem quixotic without Wampler's record of accomplishment: homes in earthquake-ravaged Turkey; schools in China and Sierra Leone; an orphanage in Ecuador; and community centers in Mexico and Thailand.

In Wampler's office, beneath the perimeter of shelves containing models of completed projects that document the 38 years he has taught an international workshop at MIT, lies the organized chaos of works in progress: blueprints, photographs, calendars, and poster-boards. Nine chairs are jammed into a tight space - evidence of Wampler's belief in the collaborative dimension of architecture.

He and Lahens stand by a sketch of the village complex that is taped to the wall and review its interlocking plazas, which are anchored by a school and punctuated by vegetable and floral gardens, and boast centers for the arts, health, and community, as well as dorms and a cafeteria. Wampler points out a water tower and tells how it will be used to irrigate the gardens that provide the food served in the cafeteria. "Sustainable" is mentioned repeatedly. Wampler intends to team with local workers and get creative in the face of limited resources. He talks of rammed-earth blocks, thatch roofs, planting bamboo, and photovoltaics.

The discussion then turns to a computer center, which he and Lahens see as the new marketplace.
"With the Internet, people can make and sell goods where they are," said Wampler. "They're no longer dependent on cities for income. Our intention is to help people where they are."

Funding a project of this scale in this volatile global economy doesn't seem to faze Wampler. He recently witnessed Ecuadorians selling handmade goods to meet expenses for a community center. That piecemeal approach, said Wampler, inspired a donor to bankroll the project after seeing a model of it.

"There's a power of architecture to make funding possible," said Wampler. "I'm confident we'll find a donor and begin building in Haiti in the spring."

Wampler emphasized that no model will be built until he and his students receive feedback from the Haitians, whom they plan to visit in February. Lahens said she could not imagine a single change, then mentioned, with a laugh, the addition of a little Haitian style.

"Jan wants to provide the underserved with the level of quality that only the rich can usually afford," said Lahens. "It touches my heart."

"The poor have only one house," said Wampler. "They should have the best architecture, not makeshift architecture."

Asked about his egalitarian approach to a field often maligned for its ego and excess, Wampler recalled a decision he made as a student in the 1960s at the Rhode Island School of Design.

"It was time for a thesis project," he said. "Designing an embassy or museum was the usual thing, but that didn't appeal to me."

Wampler had read about some struggling boat-builders in Nova Scotia being housed in government trailers. It struck him as wrong.

"With very little money, a bunch of egg-salad sandwiches, and a terrible car, I drove to this Nova Scotia village to see if I could design housing in a way that these people had designed wooden boats," said Wampler. "I wanted to see if I could help them transfer that technology. I wanted to help."

It's an inclination shared by his students.

"I see this as the same sort of grass-roots phenomenon that got [President Barack] Obama elected," said Amanda Levesque, 20, an MIT junior from Tewksbury and a member of Wampler's Haiti project. "We're going to see a lot more global awareness in our field and others. I think we're sick of seeing Prada stores instead of schools."

Wampler's prizing of people, not profits, has earned him a reputation as "the Walt Whitman of architects." Asked if he had a "Song of Myself" to give the world, he said, "It's a song of others."

Ron Fletcher can be reached at rfletcher@bchigh.edu


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See For Yourself

To learn more about the Renaissance Project, you can download our full presentation in PDF format. SImply click the following link, or right click and choose "save link as" to begin downloading:

   Renaissance Project: Hope for Haiti

If you have any questions, comments, or you would like to get involved with the project, contact us.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Contact Us

The Renaissance Project plans to begin construction as soon as funds are available. Our team is working at MIT as well as on the ground in Haiti to organize implementation efforts.

Address: Boston, MA, USA
Telephone: +1-857-615-0102
E-mail: info@haitirenaissance.org