Harris: Design for developing nations developing at IIT

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Still, the Haitian water engineer traveling with us warns Clark that given flooding concerns during the rainy season, it would be best if she built up the hill a bit.

To convey this to her students, Clark arranged Skype calls with Dorelien; his daughter Audrey, who is doing postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan on demography and public health; Nathalie Jolivert, a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, whose father died in the earthquake; architect David Hampton who previously worked for Sean Penn's relief organization, J/P HRO; Michelle Sakayan, a Chicago architect who helped lead the design of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa; architect Malcolm Morris, who designed a school in Mirebalais for L'Ecole De Choix led by Chicagoan Laura Hartman; and Stuart Dykstra, a hydrogeologist from Woodridge-based V3.

"They got a fair amount of firsthand experience from people, which is really good, because I refuse to go in there and say, 'You're going to design a boarding school in Haiti' and just let them dream and not think about it in real terms," Clark said. "That's what made it even more challenging because they can't use anything to build with. And then we get to the point, where I say, 'Yeah. There's this road. You just designed something with a 35-foot-long truss. How are you going to get that up the road? How's it going to get there exactly?'"

In Clark's view, much of the aid that flooded Haiti after the earthquake was "inappropriate." And the proposals for temporary and permanent housing were "useless" because the architects planning them had "insufficient information" about the community and the culture.

So Clark demanded that each student ask:

•Does their design demonstrate an understanding of Haitian culture and the community? (She made the class spend two weeks reading Haitian literature and history.)

•Does it take into account local conditions, climate and ecology (such as the rainy season)?

•Does it incorporate available materials? (Deforestation has wiped out Haiti's wood supply. No wood allowed.)

•Is it sensitive to the overall psychology of Haiti? (For instance, putting girls on the second floors of the dormitories for privacy and safety.)

"The kids who were in my class, they wanted to do something that felt real and to sink their teeth into something that felt more of-the-world," Clark said. "I think they enjoyed it, and I felt like I actually had something to offer them."

Clark will teach at IIT again in the spring.

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential

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