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30 Bulldozers January 2011 Len’s goal to open the orphanage on the first anniversary of the earthquake evolved into the more modest objective of starting construction before that date. Since September, a working group that included Len’s family, his construction buddies, architects, and electrical designers from my firm, TRO JB, and structural engineers from SGH met at our office every other Monday to refine the design. My job was to move the project forward and keep everyone happy. Every building project suffers scope creep—clients always want more than they can afford—but altruistic projects often develop agendas that approach fantasy. We should install geothermal. Haiti would be great for wind power. We must have composting toilets and recycle gray water. Hydrogen cells. I have little patience with Americans keen to impose on others technologies that the richest nation on earth is slow to embrace itself, but I allowed each idea to bounce around the room long enough for people to feel heard and then steered us back to our main objective: building an orphanage. Happily, the letter B, which derived from the Egyptian hieroglyphic for the floor plan of a house, serves our needs well. We keep our B simple, the same Varsity font as the Boston Bruins logo, with forty-five-degree angles instead of curved top and bottom loops; we don’t want the challenge of forming curved concrete in Haiti. The B spreads across the site in an east–west direction, the straight-line back of the building faces uphill to the south, the crenulated front faces north to the sea. The main entrance sits where the letter’s two bulbous portions come together, on axis 31 Bulldozers with the site’s beautiful mango tree. This creates a formal site arrangement that enhances the monumentality of our memorial. Unfortunately, our site has a single access point—the northeast corner. Everyone, public and service, arrives at this low spot. We cannot create a grand, axial progression to the entrance. The interior is organized around two courtyards. We create four neighborhoods, designed for sixteen orphans each, in the southeast and southwest corners along the straight side of the B; two upstairs and two down. Each neighborhood includes four orphan rooms, a matron suite, a shared bath, and a common room. The building’s infrastructure—generator, battery storage, water filtration , laundry, kitchen, and supplies—occupies the northeast corner of the first floor, closest to the driveway, while the northwest corner contains the administrative office and manager’s apartment. The entire front of the second floor houses visitor accommodations: six suites plus a large common room overlooking the bay. The crossbar running between the two courtyards contains the main dining room on the first floor and a large library/computer room for the children on the second floor. Everything we learned from our survey of orphanages in Haiti gets discussed during our Monday evening meetings. We debate what features we want to replicate and where we want to “raise the bar” by introducing America standards. The most critical aspect of the design is the structural system. The orphanage must be able to withstand another earthquake. The American approach to seismic design is to make buildings flexible; when the earth rumbles wood and steel structures bend to the lateral force. But Haiti has little wood, less steel, and a long tradition of concrete construction. Concrete is inherently brittle and crumbles when shaken. SGH understands that the American approach to seismic design is inappropriate in Grand Goave and develops a structural system known as constrained concrete. Instead of flexing with the earthquake, a constrained concrete building bucks tremors by being heavy and rigid. Our foundation is wide and dense, with a low center of gravity. The columns, beams, and walls are tied together, so that when the earthquake hits, the structure moves as one entity, like a boat with heavy ballast riding out the waves. It’s a simple concept but one that causes ongoing challenges for Len and me, guys used to building systems 32 Architecture by Moonlight that allow us to poke holes wherever we want. In a constrained concrete building, a hole becomes a weak spot in a quake. One afternoon, during a session at SGH’s office, John Thomsen, the lead engineer, explains the orphanage’s matrix of grade beams, the large concrete elements reinforced with steel that will form a giant grid underneath the building. “The foundation locks all the columns in place, and after...


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MARC Record
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