Torbeck Community Center

Torbeck Community Center, 1/2 scale partial mockup, viewed from the side
Maison de Naissance is a birthing center near the rural town of Torbeck, located in Haiti's southwest peninsula. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew struck the peninsula, severely impacting numerous villages. During the hurricane and in its immediate aftermath, more than 150 members of the local community took refuge in the birthing center, putting pressure on the center's ability to provide its essential services. Approximately one year later, the Dirt Works Studio / Global Studio was asked to provide a design for a 3,000 square foot community center and worship space that would also serve as an emergency shelter and distribution center during and following any future natural disasters. It was critical that the building be designed to be resilient in the face of hurricanes and earthquakes (which had devastated Port-au-Prince several years prior) as well as be low in cost and sensitive to local traditions.

The studio chose to design the community center with solid, rammed-earth perimeter walls to protect against projectiles during hurricanes and a flexible but powerful bamboo roof truss system to resist seismic and wind loads. The form of the building is simple and arose from a desire to creating a welcoming, home-like quality. Unlike many of the imported, and consequently expensive, materials used in Haitian buildings, earth and bamboo are locally available.

The Torbeck Community Center was designed to provide a place for community celebrations, worship services, and refuge in times of natural disasters. In addition to providing the design, the studio carefully constructed numerous full and 1/2 scale mock ups of portions of the community center, testing construction ideas and techniques. However, perhaps the most import part of the project was the studio's aim to transfer these particular technologies and techniques to the community of Torbeck. To accomplish this, the studio traveled to Haiti and worked alongside students from the American University of the Caribbean to build a demonstration rammed earth wall. Over the course of two weeks, the team completed the demonstration rammed wall, met with individuals from a local bamboo farm, formed bonds with our Haitian counterparts and members of the Maison de Naissance staff, had a few adventures, and learned a lot in the process.
Year: 2018
Location: Torbeck, Haiti
Course: Arch 509 Designbuild Studio
Instructor: Chad Kraus (Dirt Works Studio)

Additional Instructors: Lance Rake, Kent Spreckelmeyer, Cécile Accilien, Frank Zilm

Students: Matthew Bellomy, Kirk Blakley, Skye Clogston, Hannah Denton, Keara Greunke, Katie Harris, Sekou Hayes, Brighid Hegarty, Sarah Irby, Jason Loraine, Monica Mong, Benn Stover, Jack Swezy, Intisar Tyne, Nicholas Vaaler, David Versteeg, Melissa Watson, Kenneth Wilson

Partner/Client: Maison de Naissance / Global Birthing Home Foundation

Awards: WA Awards, World Architecture Community

Media: "Class’s Haiti Project is a Labor of Love Steeped in Learning", KU Center for Teaching Excellence