The Haiti Rebuilding Center Experience: An Interview With Pia Giraudo and Alessio Ferrara
Alessio Ferrara and Pia Giraudo are two Masters students from the Universitat International de Catalunya in Barcelona, who came to the Haiti Rebuilding Center to experience hands on the type of planning and architecture that’s used in developing countries. The time has come for them to return to school and present their theses, but before then, we sat down and discussed their time here with us.
How did you come to intern at Architecture for Humanity?
Pia: I found out several years ago when I was close to graduating Architecture school. I was researching different topics of development and emergency relief and by doing that I found the Architecture for Humanity website, I saw you were working in Haiti…and then I started following closely the work of the organization. When I decided to do my masters, I found out that my university had a relationship with the Haiti Rebuilding Center, and that’s how I ended up here.
Alessio: For me it was a similar story, because my undergrad thesis was about temporary structures for emergencies. So a few years ago I was searching the internet about that subject, about international cooperation, and that’s how I came to apply for my masters at the Universitat International de Catalunya in Barcelona. And then when we had to choose a destination for our internships, and I took a class with Nathaniel Corum (a former employee ) who spoke at great length about Architecture for Humanity, and that’s why I applied to come to Haiti. Also, it was to be the first time I would have gone outside Europe, and so that was another reason why I chose to come here: to experience something different.
Describe your experience here.
Pia: When we first got here, the entire planning team was working very intensively on Grand Ravine. It was the last few weeks of the project and where there was a lot of wrapping up to do… so we just dove right into that. It was interesting not only because the whole team was very passionate about it but also because, though we weren’t able to see the design phase, we were able to see the results and how they had to finish it up to present it and make an all-encompassing document about it. And working on it, we got to see diagrams, abstract design and how eventually the results would make a neighborhood.
From then on, I was working on Ile a Vache, which was interesting because it’s completely different from what I’m used to; it’s a rural environment and the proposal is far beyond architecture: it’s about economic recovery, social progress, culture and tourism…so a lot of different actors are involved, and it was very interesting because before, in my professional experience, I was working on project implementation: getting the money, getting the drawings, construction management basically. And the experience at the Rebuilding Center allowed me to see the design process, the building strategy, and the community feedback which I had never worked with before, so it was completely new for me.
Alessio: For the Grand Ravine Community Development Plan, mostly I was taking care of the vision documents and the fiches de projets. Because I considered myself more of an architect than an urban planner, who’s worked on small scale projects, this massive project which covered a large area and had so many different factors was the most personally impactful experience. It was challenging, because I had never done that type of work before, but really valuable because I improved my skills to work on this type of scale, in this type of environment.
And working on Grand Ravine was great, because for my thesis I’m researching slum upgrading, creating infrastructure, and the type of processes such as diagnostics and surveying that were involved in Grand Ravine. Though that’s a 10 month process and we only go to experience two of them, so we didn’t get to see the full picture of what goes into developing this kind of project. But we got to see the last stages of the strategy, meet the partners, and get introduced to the community representative because fortunately, we were able to go to Grand Ravine, and it was very interesting because I had never been in that type of context before.
What do you find most rewarding about your time here?
Pia: I would say it’s related to teamwork. Your interaction is very important to getting things done. The unique thing about this organization is that the people who work here are from all around the world, so it’s very enriching; people think differently about the same thing, and you get a very holistic picture of a process.
Alessio: Yes, it was very interesting because everyone has different backgrounds and education but we all speak design. Seeing everyone work on their own duties but collaborating with the others to complete them was as if the office was working with one mind. And in our first week here, we had to find our place within the structure, so we did what we could to wrap up the projects, help wherever it was needed. And then we settled into tasks in which we could add the most value, and it felt really good to be part of the team.
Needless to say, we will miss having Alessio and Pia part of Haiti team. We wish these very talented students the best of luck in their careers, and hope that we will have the chance to work with them in the future!