Thursday, February 25, 2010

hi tech housing on the way

(Miami Herald, February 24, 2010)
Low-cost cabins offered for post-quake housing


Efficient, inexpensive and nearly indestructible, the little blue-and-aqua hut sitting in the parking lot of a North Miami-Dade factory represents cutting-edge building technology -- and many like it could soon could be headed to Haiti.

The company that made the prototype house and the space-age composite panels it is built from announced Wednesday that it will donate 1,000 of the cabins to people left homeless by the Haiti earthquake.

At a news conference attended by some high-profile backers, including retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and retired Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, InnoVida Holdings officials also said they have lined up $15 million in investment capital to build a factory in Haiti that could produce 10,000 houses a year.

``It can do more for housing in Haiti better and faster than any other technology out there,'' said Clark, who is on InnoVida's board of directors.

It's not yet a done deal. InnoVida officials say they must still ascertain who will receive the 1,000 homes, which can serve as temporary shelter but were designed by renowned Miami architect and planner Andrés Duany as permanent housing. The company is in talks with the Haitian government and several interested volunteer organizations working on quake relief.

In attendance Wednesday was Haiti's minister of tourism, Patrick Delatour, an architect and urban planner in charge of developing the government's reconstruction strategy. He was noncommittal, though he said he liked the InnoVida material and two prototype homes at the factory, one a full-scale house designed for Miami's Little Haiti.

``The bottom line is, who will pay? And that we will know March 31'' he said, referring to an international donors conference on Haiti set for that date. ``I heard of this and I came to take a look. It's a very nice design.''

The Haitian government, the Red Cross and the United Nations have fielded dozens of proposals for shelter and housing. But the government has barely begun to sort through them. Some of the decision-makers have expressed opposition to prefabricated housing, preferring locally built homes.

But the investors, donations and expertise InnoVida has assembled could give CEO Claudio Osorio an advantage, though he and other backers stress their cabin, if successful, would be only one of a range of housing solutions for Haiti. Mourning, an investor in the company, said he would also pledge a portion of the more-than $1 million he and Heat star Dwyane Wade raised for Haiti relief to help get the 1,000 houses erected.

Osorio said thousands of Haitians would be employed as factory workers and for on-site house assembly, which can be done in a matter of hours by unskilled workers using no heavy equipment. Each house would cost between $3,000 and $4,000.

The Haitian Cabin, as it's been dubbed, is a refined version of a stripped-down house that Duany proposed a couple of weeks after the quake.

This version, which like the first would sleep eight in a bunkhouse-like arrangement, incorporates improvements Duany made based on research in Haiti and consultations with sociologists and anthropologists. Instead of the first version's open, screened-in sides, this one has solid walls all around and windows with wooden shutters.

It even has indoor plumbing -- a faucet connected to a pair of tanks on the roof, one to collect rain and the other potable water. Duany said he took as much care designing the simple hut as he does designing homes for affluent clients.

Duany also developed an elaborate plan showing how the modular houses, with variations to fit rural, suburban and urban environments and different topographies, could be easily expanded with additional rooms -- and how new rural villages, urban neighborhoods and suburbs could be erected using the cabin in various configurations.

The panels are fully insulated, lightweight and fireproof, and the assembled structures would stand up to a strong quake and has passed testing for a Category 5 hurricane, Duany said.

Foundations could be sunk in concrete or, because cement and rebar may be unavailable, screwed deep into the ground using a method developed by a European company, he said.

Because water for flushing wastes would likely be unavailable in most places and latrines impractical given the probable density of settlements, most Haitian Cabin dwellers would have to use other means of waste disposal. Duany proposes use of the Peepoo bag, a product developed in Sweden that contains chemicals that rapidly compost human waste.

- Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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