$300 House Project targets Haiti

The Dartmouth

January 26, 2012

By Isobel Markham

Facing a packed lecture hall in the Tuck School of Business, international business professor Vijay Govindarajan, the pioneer of the $300 House Project, welcomed the 40 participants of the four-day design workshop, as well as Dartmouth students and members of the public. The workshop — which aims to address homelessness by developing affordable housing — brings together students and faculty from Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering, College undergraduates, as well as architects, engineers and designers from around the world. Among those invited were the six winners of the $300 House design competition, selected from over 300 different submissions. College President Jim Yong Kim served as the keynote speaker at the event.

During the four-day $300 House workshop, which will take place at the Tuck School of Business, participants will split into four teams to design a prototype. Two groups will focus on developing the structural prototypes — one for a rural and one for an urban environment — while the third group considers issues of infrastructure and community development, including water, waste management and job creation. The final group will create a business model and discuss issues of flexibility.

Following the close of the workshop, a prototype house will be built in Haiti, followed eventually by a model village, according to Govindarajan.

During Spring term 2011, two teams of students from Tuck began working with Govindarajan, studio art professor Jack Wilson and students in his architecture course to investigate the viability of the $300 House Project, focused specifically on solving housing issues in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake left many homeless.

Wilson, engineering professor Vicki May and global health program officer Molly Bode ’09 took two trips to Haiti in the fall to evaluate the housing needs of the poor in both rural and urban settings. On the first trip in September, they were accompanied by MD-MBA students Avni Patel Tu ’12 DMS ’12 and Tom Finn Tu ’12 DMS’12, as well as ecology student Tyler Pavlowich Adv ’15. Students Nitin Sharma Tu ’12 and Ryan Birjoo ’11 Th ’12 traveled with the team on the second trip in December to survey housing conditions.

The streets of Port-au-Prince. The streets of Port-au-Prince, December, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Molly Bode ’09.)

“There’s underlying issues in health that can be improved by adequate housing,” Bode said. “Housing is one of the social determinates of health.”

Until now, development of low-cost housing has been focused on disaster relief and has been viewed as a temporary solution to the problem, according to Wilson. Results from the team’s in-country investigations, however, showed that communities want “well-built, durable houses that will last,” he said.

Wilson said the team has tried to involve local communities as much as possible in order to “develop a process that can be taken over” by these communities after it is formulated.

The project has become popular among Tuck and Thayer students, according to individuals interviewed by The Dartmouth.

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