Haiti: post-earthquake lessons learned from traditional construction

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  • 1.Haiti: post-earthquake lessons learnedfrom traditional constructionJOEL F AUDEFROYJoel Audefroy is a Senior ABSTRACT This paper considers the potential contribution of traditionalLecturer and Researcher construction techniques and materials to rebuilding in Port-au-Prince and otherat the ESIATecamachalcoareas in Haiti that were devastated by the 2010 earthquake. Based on differentCampus, Institutoexamples of housing that collapsed or were damaged by the earthquake, itPolitcnico Nacional (IPN)of Mexico, and also a shows how traditional construction systems often demonstrated better resilienceconsultant with Habitat to earthquakes than buildings constructed with modern materials. But it alsoInternational Coalition,describes the erosion of traditional knowledge and the pressure on those withLatin America Officetraditional building skills to work with modern materials and techniques. It(HICAL). He is an architecthighlights the need to better understand and draw on traditional knowledgeby training, holds adoctorate in Ethnology, andwhile also recognizing that this knowledge needs to evolve and innovate. Thisis a member of ICOMOS includes, where appropriate, the use of modern techniques and materials to helpMexico and the National rehabilitate traditional structures and thus combine safety with preservation of aSystem of Researchers.rich architectural heritage.Address: ESIATecamachalco, Av. Fuentes KEYWORDS disasters / earthquake / Haiti / heritage / housing / traditionalde los Leones 28, Colonia knowledge / vulnerabilityTecamachalco, Naucalpande Jurez, Estado de MexicoC.P. 56500, Mexico; e-mail:takatitakite@gmail.comI. INTRODUCTIONThe author would liketo thank the followingThe Caribbean region of which Haiti forms part is vulnerable toinstitutions: Caritas Mexicoearthquakes. The fact that there had been none in the region for severaland Haiti, for allowing decades led Haitian authorities to affirm that earthquakes had neverthe implementation of apost-disaster identificationoccurred before the great disaster of 12 January 2010. In reality, the historymission in Haiti; Habitat of earthquakes on the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic,International Coalition,known as Isla Espaola, demonstrates a recurrence of quakes: 1502, 1562,Latin America Office1673, 1684, 1701, 1751, 1761, 1770, 1842, 1860, 1887, 1904, 1911 and(HICAL) and the CentroLindavista of Mexico for1946.(1) The January 2010 earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the Richtertheir role in organizing thescale, devastated a large part of the city of Port-au-Prince, as in 1751 andmission; and the Instituto1770. The effects on Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, have beenPolitcnico Nacional (IPN)of Mexico for financing the devastating. More than 150,000 bodies had been recovered by 25 Januaryresearch. and the official number of dead eventually reached 200,000. More than250,000 people suffered often devastating injuries and 1.2 million people1. Semesterly Newsletter of were left homeless. The 2010 Haiti earthquake is considered one of thelObservatoire Mtorologique largest humanitarian catastrophes in history. Post-disaster evaluationsdu Sminaire College Sthave revealed that the majority of the destruction was caused by the poorMartial, quoted in Suarez,Gerardo, Virginia Garca Acosta quality of construction materials, which proved too structurally weak toand Rogelio Altez (2010), resist the lateral and horizontal forces unleashed by the earthquake.Un desastre ms all delThe increased vulnerability of the structures may be attributed toTerremoto, Letras Libres AoXII, N 135, March, Mexico, various factors such as poor construction quality, lack of maintenance,pages 2023.absence of building codes, and improperly implemented modificationsEnvironment & Urbanization Copyright 2011 International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). 1Vol 23(2): xxxx. DOI: 10.1177/0956247811418736 www.sagepublications.com

2. E N V I R O N M E N T & U R B A N I Z AT I O N Vol 23 No 2 October 2011and additions. In the majority of cases blame has been attributed tothe vernacular structures, built without architects using traditionalconstruction materials and techniques, perceived as outdated and weakand which in the post-disaster reconstruction phase will be replaced byso-called modern construction systems and materials. These modernsystems, using concrete, were first introduced in Haiti in the 1920s, withthe construction of public buildings such as Haitis National Palace by thearchitect Georges Baussan in 1924. What is so-called vernacular architecture? If we revisit the definitionestablished by Paul Oliver in the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architectureof the World, we find that it very accurately describes the traditionallyconstructed vernacular home in Haiti: Vernacular architecture comprises the dwellings and all other buildings of the people. Related to their environmental context and available resources, they are customarily owner or community built, utilizing traditional technologies. All forms of vernacular architecture are built to meet specific needs, accommodating the values, economies and ways of living of the cultures that produce them(2)2. Oliver, Paul (1997), Encyclopedia of VernacularHowever, several studies in seismic regions have revealed that many (3) Architecture of the World,so-called vernacular structures (the house: la kay) have demonstratedCambridge University Press, UK, three volumes, 2,500 pages.highly acceptable behaviours during earthquakes as a result of traditional 3. See works by FUNDASALconstruction systems developed over the course of long periods of in El Salvador, Craterre andtime. Yet despite this, the majority of these structures have become ITDG in Peru, and severalmore vulnerable due to various factors, including a gradual loss of localpublications by the ICOMOStraditional knowledge. This article explores the reasons for this loss ofnetwork, including Heritage at Risk. See also Jigyasu, Rohitknowledge and this vulnerability in the context of the regions affected by (2008), Structural adaptationthe recent earthquake in Haiti.in South Asia: learning lessonsThe challenge therefore is how to return to traditional knowledge in from tradition, in Lee Bosher (editor), Hazards and thea way that fits within a contemporary construction context. This paper Built Environment, Routledge,seeks to outline critical paths to achieve an adaptation of traditionalLondon, pages 7495; alsoknowledge to the contemporary structures necessary for a sustainable Revi, Aromar, Rajendra Desaifuture.et al. (1993), Action Plan for Reconstruction in Earthquake- affected Maharashtra, TARU, New Delhi; and Sanderson,II. HAITI: A COUNTRY VULNERABLE TO DISASTERS David and Anshu Sharma (2008), Winners and losers from the 2001 GujaratThe last earthquake to hit Haiti prior to January 2010 was in 1946, more earthquake, Environment andthan 50 years ago. The population had therefore forgotten that the Urbanization Vol 20, No 1, April,country, and Port-au-Prince in particular, was vulnerable to earthquakes.pages 177186.Both modern and conventional structures suffered grave damage,causing great loss of human life and property. Many of the countryscement constructions (RCC) did not comply with basic constructionnorms, for example very heavy concrete slabs spanned clearings morethan three metres long between supports (Photo 1). In other cases, floorsand roofs were built with no reinforcements and the weight of the slabsbrought buildings tumbling down like houses of cards (Photo 2). Insome structures, walls that were built too thinly could not resist strongtremors or the weight of the slabs. In other instances, concrete beamswere not well enough secured to the concrete columns and were unableto withstand the lateral movements of the earthquake. Some vernacular structures built of wattle and daub failed to resist theearthquake due to the poor quality of the materials used. Stones were set2 3. H A I T I : P O S T- E A R T H Q U A K E L E S S O N S L E A R N E D F R O M T R A D I T I O N A L C O N S T R U C T I O NPHOTO 1 Heavy concrete slabs spanned clearings longer than three metres, Port of Prince, Haiti J AudefroyPHOTO 2The weight of the slabs caused buildings to collapse like a house of cards, Port of Prince, Haiti J Audefroy3 4. E N V I R O N M E N T & U R B A N I Z AT I O N Vol 23 No 2 October 2011 PHOTO 3A lack of maintenance weakened walls, contributing to their collapse, Decoville, Haiti. J Audefroywith poor quality mortar and a lack of maintenance weakened the walls,contributing to their collapse (Photo 3). An absence of reinforcements(buttresses) in the wooden structures of wattle and daub walls also weakenedthe structure of the walls and their resistance to lateral forces. The cornersof wattle and daub walls were insufficiently reinforced and some werecompromised, although this did not always result in their collapse (Photo 4). Earthquakes have always occurred in Haiti, but this was the first totake place in the context of such high population densities in the city ofPort-au-Prince. One could question why so-called modern concrete andblock constructions did not respect current construction norms? And theanswer would be because these norms do not exist in Haiti. The key principles for building a home that is resistant to bothearthquakes and hurricanes have been presented in various publications,which unfortunately have been poorly distributed. The ISDR(4) has4. ISDR: International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.published a booklet on housing improvements in Haiti, specifically tooptimize hurricane resistance. It details more than a dozen specific sensitivepoints to be reinforced during housing construction, for example thatwooden posts should be anchored to the foundations and that roof beamsshould be anchored to the wooden structure. In the case of earthquakes,the specialized literature emphasizes that buildings are subjected