From the devastation caused by the January, 2010 7.0 earthquake, Haiti continues to suffer. Over 300,000 lost their lives in the natural disaster, and over one million were left homeless and stranded. While this was indeed a horrific and tragic event, the 9.5 earthquake that hit Chile only a few months later did very little damage, comparably, and only claimed the lives of about 500 people. This gave rise to a lot of questions surrounding the Haitian incident, with many wondering why Port au Prince suffered so much.
In attempts to find the cause of the problem, scientists discovered the reason for the destruction level resided in the building material of choice in Haiti: concrete. Since the country has faced massive deforestation issues, concrete became the cheap building material of choice. Concrete, without any amount of flexibility, reacts very poorly with earthquakes. The lateral movement on the hardened block causes the concrete to break and fall. This is the reason behind Haiti’s suffering, and one that the leaders do not want to see repeated.
Recently, John Naylor of the Architectural Association, spent time developing a long and short term rebuilding strategy for Haiti, that involves the use of an out of the norm material: bamboo. Named the Bamboo Lakou Project, Naylor devised an architecturally sound structure that is built primarily out of bamboo. Bamboo, which retains a high level of strength while being flexible, is an excellent earthquake safety material. The rest of the structure was designed to be built out of readily accessible items that are prevalent in current Haitian culture. What Naylor built, was a low-cost system to safely rebuild Haitian homes. Equally important is the aesthetic design of the houses. The Lakou house, named after a local Haitian design, features a communal courtyard typology. The houses are designed to be efficient and safe, while preserving Haiti’s culture.
Bamboo is to be featured for many reasons. First of all, bamboo can effectively be grown and supply the entire country with timber for construction in as little as three years. Bamboo grows insanely fast, but also grows densely enough to supply a lot more timber than traditional trees. A 1000 square foot house would need about 12 acres of traditional trees to build, while it would only take one acre of bamboo.
Bamboo also exploits some of the economic weaknesses in Haiti, and can greatly capitalize on them. With a large labor force at the ready, growing bamboo and building factories to fashion it into goods would provide a lot of jobs. Bamboo is such a versatile crop; it can be fashion into thousands of high demand items such as organic bamboo sheets, organic blankets, socks, shirts, hoodies, plates, cutting boards, panels, siding, construction materials etc.
In addition to simply supplying Haiti with wood, these bamboo plantations could bolster their economy and fill the much needed demand for bamboo products in America.