Saturday, February 18, 2012

Introducing the H2H Project

The H2H idea, started by project founders Philippe Pierre-Paul and Kevin Gajewski in May 2011, was to address disaster relief in disaster stricken countries. In our initial investigations of relief work, we found that aid organizations were approaching issues created by disasters independently and that changes to a family's living situation were only marginally improved compared to what is needed for greater change. The project was to take a systems engineering approach that integrates the different needs into one model home that would serve as the template to a larger community of H2H homes.

Stevens already had an initiative from the Department of Defense for Green Expeditionary Housing. Another one of the DoD's mission is disaster relief, so when we approached Stevens about our idea we knew had found a place for the project.

The project commenced in fall 2011 when the group of 11 students agreed that they wanted to be apart of a design effort that would make a larger impact beyond Stevens. The fall 2011 semester was focused on disaster research, planning, and design. After the first few weeks it was decided a specific disaster should be picked to be used as our design template. Haiti was chosen due to it's recent Earthquake and Cholera issues. The team needed to understand the Haitian culture, family living conditions prior to the earthquake, and the progress of disaster relief shelter's since January 12, 2010. Initially, gathering research appeared daunting but we were ready for the challenge. Our sources of information included online data, aid workers, and Haitian residents. Our faculty were supportive by inviting technical guest speakers to present on their experience with working in developing nations. Specifically, the most significant information came from  two speakers with direct ties to Haiti. The first was an Architect who spent most of her childhood in Haiti and the second was a Buro Happold Structural Engineer from the United Kingdom who volunteered in Haiti for three months building school's and shelters for earthquake victims.

The Haitian Architect contributed meaningful insight into the Haitian culture. She informed the team that a family size can be between 5-10 people including children and close relatives. Also, that the entire property is utilized by families. For example, a family may dry clothes on the roof and cook in the backyard. These cultural examples and more were considered for our design.

In terms of construction practices, the Buro Happold engineer spoke on his experiences in aiding the Tearfund organization in Léogâne, Haiti. During his three month visit he helped build transitional shelters for displaced Haitian families. The key points of his assessment that stood out to us were his emphasis on a design that incorporates local labor and a sense of ownership. For instance, he cited aid organizations that assumed what Haitians needed without consulting the community and as a result, no one accepted the final shelters when they sent to Haiti. Our team agreed that this arrogant attitude towards aid would not be apart of our project.

Currently, the team is prototyping designs to build on Stevens campus for Senior Design Day in April. The different sub-systems (Shelter, Power, Water and Waste) have been broken up to test their individual prototypes. The following posts for the next three weeks will include test footage and documentation of the prototyping process. We will invite different team members to speak on the community design and why they chose to be apart of the H2H project. Lastly, we will collectively learn and grow from the engineering design process.     

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