[Strawbale] [Bwbnewsletter] Progress in Haiti

Builders Without Borders newsletter BWBNewsletter at builderswithoutborders...
Wed Dec 1 19:14:02 CET 2010

After the earthquake last January, the world's attention and compassion 
focused on Haiti, and many, many people wanted to make some kind of 
contribution to ease the suffering.  Members of the Builders Without 
Borders network of natural builders and friends were among those who 
wanted to help reconstruction in ways that would contribute to lasting 
improvements in both structures and community.

After a year, the world's attention has moved on, and the intense 
desire to contribute has sadly faded from the consciousness of the 
majority.  But many individuals and groups are still working hard to 
make a difference.  In the last year, we have seen examples of 
excellent collaboration between diverse NGO's, and many committed 
individuals.  People have volunteered their expertise and inspiration 
to carefully plan, and begin executing projects and activities in 
support of Haiti.  Below is a brief report from Martin Hammer, a 
California architect who has taken a leading role, and agreed to serve 
as Builders Without Borders project leader for work in Haiti.  (The 
report contains a lot of specifics and minutiae, which will give you an 
idea of the level of detail needed to manage a collaborative project.)

Hello Builders Without Borders Team and others,

(note:  this was written Wednesday night 11/24)

Greetings from Haiti!  A bit of a difficult first day including 
unexpected issues regarding the site at Grass Roots United, near the UN 
in Port-au-Prince, but things seem to be sorting themselves out.  Kevin 
Rowell conducted a great bamboo workshop at GRU on Tuesday.  About 25 
attended, including people from the American Red Cross, Architecture 
For Humanity and other NGOs.  The people at GRU are terrific, and they 
are doing great and varied work in Haiti.

Time is a real constraint with the Ti Kay Pay strawbale project, 
especially for Andy Mueller, and it looks like we can't really begin 
building until Monday.  However, until then we are doing site prep, 
materials procurement, and figuring out other things regarding 
materials and the construction system.

We had a great trip to the Artibonite Valley today to see bale 
production.  The moisture content of the bales is an average of 12.6%, 
which is great!  The clear weather as we get out of the rainy season is 
really helping.  Average bale weight of the 1'x1'x2' bales is 13.9 
pounds.  Also, we did a test bale forming (2) 2x4's into a bale and we 
were very happy with the outcome.  So we're going with the detail of 
putting 2x4s on edge as the top plate, recessed into the top corners of 
the bales, for the top course.  Andy suggested a great refinement in 
the bale making process.  Alternating direction of the "folds" of straw 
at each layer.  It makes for a more stable and dense bale.

I've attached photos of:  the straw being compressed in the mold with 
the farm jack; a bale being tied off while in the mold; and proud bale 
makers Noel and Arol with one of their stacks of bales (120 of 200 are 
made).  Land owner Max Vieux was a great facilitator all day, and has 
been since the process of collecting/drying straw and making bales 
began some weeks ago.   Kevin Rowell has also been enormously helpful, 
teaching the process that he learned himself just recently, and 
monitoring the collection and drying of the straw before we arrived. 
There was slow going in the beginning, due to unfamiliarity, the 
cholera epidemic (which began in Artibonite), and weather, but Noel and 
Arol now really have the hang of it.  They're more efficient, the bale 
quality is excellent, and their production rate is up to 30 bales per 7 
hour day.

On the way from the Artibonite site back to the main road in St. Marc 
we stopped in the village of Simonette to see and photograph more 
examples of Ti Kays (small houses), the basic rural Haitian living 
unit.  I've attached a photo of two, including one that curiously has a 
faux brick face etched or painted onto its front face.  The other has 
more traditional colors and patterns.

Today I also paid for a manual rubble crusher which is a huge 
accomplishment.  It will be delivered Friday.  It's also a huge 
investment at $2750, but BWB co-purchased it with Bruce King and EBNet. 
Andy and I, Kevin, Bruce, and everyone involved with this work of 
sustainable building solutions in Haiti expect it to be enormously 
useful.  Rubble as a building resource in Haiti has enormous potential. 
Kevin has seen the crusher in action.  I saw it in the flesh and it 
appears to be a "simple" but sturdy machine (see photo), capable of 
churning out 6-8 cu.yds. of crushed material per day (4 people 
operating).  It's a well-scaled, fairly portable machine for small to 
moderate sized buildings.  The rubble material can often be obtained 
including delivery at no charge.  Andy and I plan to use the crushed 
material (which can be of a chosen size based on the setting of the 
machine and/or screening) for material to fill the gravel bags, 
drainage base for the earthen floor, and fine aggregate (sand 
substitute) for the cement-lime plaster on the gravel bags, the 
exterior lime plaster, and interior clay plaster.  We did see excellent 
sand in and being stockpiled from the broad Artibonite River.  A good 
source, but not enough to rebuild Haiti without destroying the river. 
One could argue no one should take any sand from the river bed.

There is a bit of tension in the air as the elections approach 
(Monday).  Social unrest is a possibility, but we're hoping the 
election occurs without incident.

Tomorrow (Thanksgiving) we hope to finalize location and layout of the 
site and begin clearing and prepping it.

After we returned from Artibonite, as a matter of evening recreation, I 
learned to swing balls of fire through the night air without setting 
myself on fire (see photo).  This is something all builders of bale 
buildings should learn.  Swinging balls of fire and strawbale buildings 
under construction are such a good combination.



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