A call to help build a Haitian orphanage in Professor Bruce Swetnam’s Spring 2017 studio has evolved into a project driven by a passion for humanitarian architecture.
In April 2017, six students went on the inaugural trip to Chez Moi orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They experienced firsthand the needs of the girls who lived there as well as their culture to fully understand how best to renovate the building. “We had to experience the site, the climate, to make it realistic,” said Nick Hodge, a fourth-year student who went on the trip. “Being able to watch them [just] be, to interact with them, gave you insight into what was really important to them and what type of space they needed.”
In 2010, the orphanage was severely damaged by an earthquake that registered a magnitude of 7.0. Swetnam had firsthand knowledge of the damage in Haiti, having made previous philanthropic trips to support the rebuilding of the country in his personal time.
After this latest trip with his students, word got out and many more are interested in participating in the orphanage renovations – and perhaps even making humanitarian architecture their profession after school. “The last day before we flew out, we were talking and asking how this fits into a professional career,” said Abbi Evans, a first-year graduate student in architecture. “Maybe social impact architecture is possible as a career, maybe we should pay attention to this and not just write it off as a side job.”
Thanks to a successful crowdfunding effort and the support of the UK Student Sustainability Council, Swetnam’s Spring 2018 architecture studio went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in February 2018 to complete the project.