Brookes develops shelter for Haiti earthquake victims

Thursday, 11 March 2010


A hurricane-resistant home has been designed and built at Oxford Brookes University demonstrating the techniques needed to create strong, long-lasting shelters in Haiti.

A hurricane-resistant home has been designed and built at Oxford Brookes University demonstrating the techniques needed to create strong, long-lasting shelters in Haiti.

The country was rocked by a huge earthquake in January leaving more than a million people homeless. A huge relief effort is now underway – just as the stormy season approaches.

“This structure will withstand wind speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour,” said Bill Flinn, an associate lecturer for the Department of Architecture at Brookes.

Photos of the work have been used to make an instruction manual of simple but effective building techniques which was given to architects, surveyors and engineers as a part of a week long intensive ‘Shelter After Disaster’ course run in March at the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) at Brookes, in collaboration with the Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) initiative and co-funded by Save the Children UK.

Five Architecture students from Brookes spent two days building the tough structure at the University’s Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site.

“A civil engineer in Haiti got in touch and asked us to have a look at a design they were proposing,” explained Bill. “We reckoned there were some improvements that could be made quite easily and quite cheaply.”

“There are two things that make this structure particularly strong. The first is hurricane strappings – simple metal straps – used to join the panels, which are ten times stronger than simply nailing the wood together. The second is cross bracing, which involves creating diagonal supports to connect the corners of the panels. And, of course, they must be built on top of strong foundations.

“The idea is not to sell this particular design but to sell the idea of well engineered construction. People are talking about the need for these houses to last for three years but experience tells us they could still be in use for much longer than predicted. This means they will have to bear the brunt of three hurricane seasons,” said Bill.

“This type of shelter can be taken apart and moved anywhere quite easily, either by two people carrying the panels or stacked on the back of a lorry,” Bill added.

He concluded: “This is what academic institutes should be about - providing a link between academia and practical uses. I hope that we have given the people of Haiti a better chance of surviving the hardships of the coming years.”