A Low-Cost Housing Solution for Haiti Earthquake Victims

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Devastation in Haiti

Haiti Earthquake Damage, January 2010
Haiti Earthquake Damage, January 2010. Photo © Sophia Paris/MINUSTAH via Getty Images

When an earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the capital city of Port-au-Prince was reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and millions were left homeless.

How could Haiti provide shelter for so many people? The emergency shelters would need to be inexpensive and easy to build. Moreover, the emergency shelters should be more durable than makeshift tents. Haiti needed homes that could stand up to earthquakes and hurricanes.

Within days after the earthquake struck, architects and designers began working on solutions.

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Introducing Le Cabanon, the Haitian Cabin

Le Cabanon Emergency Shelter
Manufactured by InnoVida™, Le Cabanon, or the Haitian Cabin, is a 160 square foot prefab shelter made with fiber composite panels. Photo ©InnoVida Holdings, LLC

Architect and planner Andrés Duany proposed constructing lightweight modular homes using fiberglass and resin. Duany's emergency homes pack two bedrooms, a common area, and a bathroom into 160 square feet.

Andrés Duany is well-known for his work on the Katrina Cottages, an attractive and affordable type of emergency housing for victims of Hurricane Katrinia on America's Gulf Coast. However Duany's Haitian Cabin, or Le Cabanon, does not look like a Katrina Cottage. Haitian Cabins are especially designed for Haiti's climate, geography, and culture. And, unlike Katrina Cottages, Haitian Cabins are not necessarily permanent structures, although they can be expanded to provide safe shelter for many years.

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Floor Plan of a Haitian Cabin

Floor Plan of a Haitian Cabin
Eight people can sleep in the Haitian Cabin manufactured by InnoVida™. Image ©InnoVida Holdings, LLC

Architect Andrés Duany designed the Haitian Cabin for maximum space efficiency. This floor plan of the cabin shows two bedrooms, one at each end of the structure. At the center are a small common area and a bathroom.

Since water drainage and sewage may pose problems in the community of earthquake victims, the toilets use chemical composting for waste disposal. The Haitian Cabins also have faucets that draw water from rooftop tanks where rainwater is collected.

The Haitian Cabin is made of lightweight modular panels that can be stacked in flat packages for shipping from the manufacturer. Local laborers can assemble the modular panels in just a few hours, Duany claims.

The floor plan shown here is for a core house and can be expanded by adding additional modules.

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Inside a Haitian Cabin

Alonzo Mourning at a Haitian Cabin
Basketball pro Alonzo Mourning, who co-founded the Athletes Relief Fund for Haiti, checks a prototype of a Haitian Cabin from InnoVida Holding Company. Photo © Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Haitian Cabin that Andrés Duany designed is manufactured by InnoVida Holdings, LLC, a company that makes lightweight fiber composite panels.

InnoVida says the materials used for the Haitian Cabins are fire-resistant, mold-resistant, and waterproof. The company also claims that Haitian Cabins will hold up in 156 mph winds and will prove much more resiliant in earthquakes than houses made of concrete. Building costs are estimated at $3,000 to $4,000 per home.

Basketball pro Alonzo Mourning, who co-founded the Athletes Relief Fund for Haiti, has pledged his support to the InnoVida company for reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

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Sleeping Quarters in a Haitian Cabin

Sleeping quarters in a Haitian Cabin
Sleeping quarters in a Haitian Cabin. Photo © Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Haitian Cabin manufactured by InnoVida can sleep eight people. Shown here is a bedroom with sleeping areas along the wall.

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A Neighborhood of Haitian Cabins

A cluster of Haitian Cabins form a neighborhood.
A cluster of Haitian Cabins form a neighborhood. Image ©InnoVida Holdings, LLC

InnoVida Holdings, LLC donated 1,000 of the Duany-designed homes to Haiti. The company is also constructing a factory in Haiti with plans to manufacture an additional 10,000 houses a year. Hundreds of local jobs will be created, the company claims.

In this architect's rendering, a cluster of Haitian Cabins form a neighborhood.