03/14/2011 08:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Year in Haiti: Education and Rebuilding

From the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and now yet another catastrophic earthquake in New Zealand in February, infrastructure failures are often the common denominator leading to death during natural disasters. And while these events are unfortunately inevitable, it's essential we continue to learn from these occurrences and build (or rebuild) in ways that minimize damage and save lives.

In no place is this truer than in Haiti.

Following the earthquake one year ago, Architecture for Humanity traveled to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and established operations. In August I joined the Haiti ground team as a sustainability advisor and Design Fellow. I'm happy to say my position, the first-ever, is supported by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) together with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Hopefully, it marks a continuing collaboration with Architecture for Humanity.

Aid, it seems, has slowly filtered into the country, and the devastation still remains widespread. We have seen more demolition and site clearing in recent months with pockets of rebuilding, yet we notice continued use of the same improper techniques previously used, such as building on unreinforced foundations, using under-sized rebar in columns and beams, incorrectly mixing concrete, etc. It became obvious very quickly that one of our primary goals should be education about basic building techniques along with the business of architecture and construction. To this end, Architecture for Humanity is developing a reconstruction program called Bati Byen ('well built' in Kreyol) to help avoid a similar disaster in the future while creating an economic engine and resource for the design and construction community here in Haiti's capitol.

Our team, along with a growing group of design and construction professionals and volunteer architects, is committed to stay in Haiti for three to five years to build back better. Through our current focus on rebuilding schools, we are working to build up the local construction industry with construction training, process training and safe building practices. We call our place of business the Rebuilding Center, which will eventually become a Haitian-owned and operated, one-stop shop for housing technical expertise with financial resources needed for rebuilding. Our services include workforce training, consumer education, professional referrals and an exchange for reconstruction bids and tender opportunities. Through the establishment of a construction financing arm, the Rebuilding Center will also offer a mix of construction/bridge loans and grants. Despite the initial lack of material resources and safe construction knowledge in Haiti, we're finding success slowly and surely with efforts like these.

Earlier this year, we had our first progress report, part of which was to ensure the right resources keep flowing into Haiti and truly aid rebuilding efforts. On January 13 in New Orleans, the AIA and Architecture for Humanity gathered groups such as The American Red Cross, United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and National Urban League - Greater New Orleans to continue our conversations about what they are seeing on the ground, how we can all better work together, and what our next steps are both individually and collectively. You can track our progress and updates at

As it stands, we're building the bridge in Haiti as we walk across, but our work is essential and is making a difference -- one safe building at a time. Every disaster is different but within is always an opportunity for architects and designers to help create a disaster-recovery template. We need to learn from each experience, minimize suffering and hardship in future disasters, and help start these regions on the road to recovery sooner with the ability to build back better.