Last week, before all the election hullabaloo, Haiti Design Fellow Schendy Kernizan was on site at the 1100-student Ecole Baptiste Bon Berger, Pele in downtown Port-au-Prince sporting an incredibly orange hard hat and talking to a flip cam about the demolition of an unsafe school block. The introduction was recorded as part of a series documenting Pele's reconstruction.
Accompanying Schendy in the video is Kleiwerks International and Natural Builders honcho Kevin Rowell. He and a small crew are investigating the quality of the condemned building's concrete for reuse.
The jury's still out on how useful rubble can be as a recycled building material. Much of Rowell's time spent in Port-au-Prince, where he's been living full-time since last Spring, is on finding definitive answers. Through Kleiwerks Rowell has established a co-laboratory in Port-au-Prince to test rubble and local soils for use in composite or compressed earth blocks. Field testing is ongoing, and Kleiwerks has been sending samples stateside for further laboratory support–mostly 2" block compression testing. The consistency of Haitian soil is as diverse as the people that live upon it, and samples must be taken from every prospective build site to determine if an Extremely Local materials solution is viable for a particular community.
It so happens that there is generally rich clay soils in the rural parts of Haiti, but Port-au-Prince is not so lucky–another reason why there's so much interest in rubble returning to urban buildings.
Schendy and Architecture for Humanity are eager to explore such "alternative materials" in their rebuilt schools. However, until lab tests come back and prototypes are built, well-policed concrete blocks are the way to go. Concrete block is very familiar with Haitian contractors and plans for compressed earth block systems are to borrow the CMU vocabulary.
Schendy wraps his introduction. Despite his laughing outbursts, he's taking his Students Rebuild correspondent post seriously. Complementing regular design and construction progress posts to the Open Architecture Network, Students Rebuild has established a sustained video presence in Haiti, documenting Architecture for Humanity's school reconstruction projects. Videos and webumentaries, taken on the ground and assembled in New York by the Global Nomads Group, correspond with custom-made Haiti Reconstruction curriculum, video conferences and webcasts enjoyed by thousands of middle and high school students across North America.