SHELTER | Written by Megan Nemeh Remember the bright and talented UVA architecture students, led by Professor Anselmo Canfora, involved in UVA’s Initiative reCOVER program?
They beat out 146 design teams from 5 continents for the 1st place prize in The ARCHIVE Institute’s Kay e Sante nan Ayiti (Housing and Health in Haiti) competition.
Professor Canfora and the student participants - Aja Bulla-Richards, Sarah Harper, Sally Lee, Nathan Parker, and Lauren Thompson - along with professional advisors, successfully collaborated on the design of what they call the “Breathe House.”
ARCHIVE (Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments) is an international charity focusing on housing that can help prevent the spread of disease. ARCHIVE describes their mission as “preventive” and “treatment-based.” Under the “preventative” realm, ARCHIVE seeks to “renovate inadequate housing for those who are economically disadvantaged, using simple measures to reduce vulnerability to poor health.” With respect to individuals already sick, ARCHIVE works to “create home-based care facilities in order to make housing central to the deliverance of care.”
The competition challenged teams to design housing that would minimize the risk of airborne disease transmission. The top five designs will be built in St. Marc, Haiti. St. Marc, a coastal town about 100 miles from Port-au-Prince, has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Along with the incredible accomplishment of putting forth the winning design, the UVA reCOVER team also received $5,000.
The "Breathe House" design is open and utilizes passive environmental solutions to bring light and air through the house, and maintains a close link to exterior space to facilitate indoor and outdoor living and promote community and socialization. This is accomplished with large porches with removable awnings that reflect Haitian culture and customs. For those of you interested in the logistics, science, and specifics of this ambitious design you can get more information here.
I spoke with Canfora about the project, and he thoughtfully expanded on some of the “Breathe House” details. He also took the time to weigh the student collaboration, and discuss what the UVA reCOVER team is up to next (this is not a team that rests on their laurels.) Canfora is, understandably, immensely proud of his students, and the role UVA is playing in such a worthwhile project.
Please tell me how you found out about this project and why you decided to enter it.
Professor Canfora: We learned about this competition online and through faculty and students at UVA. We were already intending on participating, and had been working on generic transitional housing for other disaster recovery applications. We then turned our attention to the specifics of the ARCHIVE design competition.
We felt this competition was very important because, not only did it deal with an important design problem- transitional housing for disaster recovery purposes- but it focused on the specific needs of a community in St. Marc. This competition was really about addressing the critical relationship between housing and health. The competition asked us to think about how housing could help promote healthy living, specifically having to do with air quality and how disease transmission due to airborne bacterial could be mitigated.
Why is this project called the “Breathe House?”
Professor Canfora: The name of the proposal, “Breathe House,” was thought of literally in the last hour before we submitted it online. We simply thought about everything we had focused on- cooling, ventilation, sanitation, panels designed with micro-gap- so one of team members suggested the design strategies were really about breathing, or a house that breathes, so we went with the name “Breathe House.”
We also carefully considered the organization of the floor plan to help accommodate a family of four with a member of the family who may be ill, or an extended family scenario. We wanted to keep the family together and we wanted to make sure a family member who may be living with HIV/AIDS and confined to a bed or with limited access to outdoors would also have the opportunity to interact with family and friends. The designs include a main living unit with bedroom that sleeps four people, and then a separate unit joined by the porch that includes a third bedroom with a bathroom facility.
UVA was selected from 147 design teams from 5 continents.
Professor Canfora: We were surprised when we found out we had won 1st place. We were already very excited to have placed in the group of 20 finalists. When Maggie Keet, the Haiti Project Coordinator for ARCHIVE, called me up to talk, she asked me how I was doing. I said “pretty good,” and she said, “I think you’re going to be a whole lot better in a minute.” I said, “why?” and she said, “because you won first place in the ARCHIVE competition.”
I immediately started calling the team to tell them, and couldn’t get a hold of anyone! I kept leaving messages saying, “when you get a chance, give me a call.” I believe I left everyone an average of 3 messages.
Please expand on the concept of housing to reduce disease transmission.
Professor Canfora: We did research on preventive methods, and techniques of building to eliminate or resist mold and mildew due to moisture buildup. and were thinking about how to build to eliminate and resist mold and mildew and moisture. That’s why we have a couple of doctors on the team, who are specialists in infectious diseases. Is architecture a solution to this? Absolutely not. The design of the built environment plays a very important part in ensuring good air quality, for instance, but other influences such good nutrition, access to healthcare, the ability of a family to care for someone who is not well, and access to prescription drugs factor into what makes a living environment.
When we were designing the “Breathe House”, we kept thinking, what would day-to-day life be like? How would we make someone as comfortable as possible? We hope this house is a place where someone would flourish and not simply survive. This notion was very important to use and influenced every aspect of our design.
How did you break down responsibilities amongst the team members?
Professor Canfora: This was truly a collaborative process. We would come together to talk and work on every aspect of the design, from the thoughtful consideration of Creole building tradition and construction to the way the floor plan is organized to very specific construction details. As a design team, we had individual responsibilities such as research on infectious diseases or the availability of locally-sourced materials in Haiti. We would then consistently come back together discuss finds and further synthesize design.
The team dynamic is very healthy, and positive. Everyone is very modest - there’s a healthy dose of humility. But at the same time, the students are very confident. They work hard, and follow through. They’re good listeners. I do want to say that this group shares a very dynamic and positive energy.
What is the UVA reCOVER project up to next?
Professor Canfora: We are working on the construction documents for the “Breathe House” drawings, for the The ARCHIVE Institute. We are also working on our submission for the EPA P3 competition in April. (More on this in a future blog!) The architecture studio I am currently teaching, Studio reCOVER 2011, is working with the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH) on a transitional housing design to address homelessness in Charlottesville. We are designing a series of transitional housing units TJACH will build this year.
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