The devastating earthquake that crushed Haiti on January 12 killed more than 150,000 people, and pummeled the poverty-stricken nation’s infrastructure. A group of Haiti’s most prominent architects and engineers have begun meeting every day, already focusing on planning the laborious task of rebuilding a nation. They have their work cut out for them.
The structural losses that Haiti suffered in the magnitude 7.0 quake are incalculable. The National Palace is in ruins. So is Parliament, the nation’s highest court, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, virtually all of the downtown commercial district, the city’s biggest and most modern supermarket, countless schools, banks, hotels, churches and, of course, homes in what is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.” (LA Times)
One of the goals of this group of design professionals is to build a new Haiti that will not be as susceptible to something this destructive happening again. Simply rebuilding Haiti is not enough. Rather, Haiti needs to be rebuilt stronger and smarter.
A problem inherent in the buildings of Haiti that crumbled during the earthquake was twofold. First, according to Leslie Voltaire, Haiti’s special envoy to the United Nations, many of the buildings were not constructed to the Haitian building code. This is because much of the infrastructure was not built by professionals (though it should be noted that the National Palace was constructed with the oversight of United States naval engineers in 1920). Second, even in cases where the code was used, it may not have mattered. The building code was only two pages, and was not created primarily with earthquakes in mind. Hurricanes were thought to be the bigger threat in Haiti. Buildings were built with heavy cinder blocks and cement, which quickly collapsed into rubble when the earthquakes struck.
Rebuilding a smarter Haiti that will not be as prone to earthquake destruction will not be an easy chore. The building code will have to be reworked, and enforced. In many cases, steel may be unaffordable for Haitians. But the fact that the island's best architects and engineers are unifying in an attempt to address these drastic problems at least provides some measure of hope for the future.