Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From package to home!

The shelters are up and being lived in by two incredible families. Our goal with this pilot is to work with the families living in the shelters to understand from their perspective how to improve the product. For more information about the design visit our site and to see feedback and observations from the field click here.

Below are a series of photos showing the TShel2 assembly.

The collapsed shelter measures 4' x 8' x 2.5' ft (1.2 x 2.4 x .76 m) and unpacks into a two-story, three roomed structure. All the components necessary for assembly come in this collapsed package. The goal is to create a shelter that can be logistically brought in after a disaster.


(left) Unpacking the shelter package. (right) Assembling the legs and elevated first floor.
(click on the image to enlarge)
(left) Assembling the steel shelter frame. (right) Attaching the second and third floors.
(left) Frame finished (right) Attaching exterior walls made from corrugated polypropylene
(both) Attaching more corrugated polypropylene walls. The walls and roof are made from this material which is UV resistant, fire-retardant, and water proof.

(left) Final walls piece  (right) Last but not least come the windows, vents and door installation.


from package to home

The shelter rests on telescoping legs that can be raised or lowered to keep the shelter level on uneven terrain.
The multi-story unit allows for increased living space in a small land footprint by utilizing vertical space.  This feature is beneficial in urban disasters where land is scarce. The shelter has 18 sq m. (190 sq ft) of interior space with a 6 sq m. (64 sq ft) exterior porch and takes up a 2.5 x 4.7 m (8' x16' ft) footprint.  
For any questions please email rafael@ubershelter.org and special thanks to our wonderful photographer Laurel Cummings!

TShel2 (Uber Shelter) in a sea of tarps in the Adokin/Accra  IDP camp, Port-au-Prince. The shelter is available for viewing

Upgrades to Magdala's Shelter!

A few weeks after arriving in Haiti we met Magdala through our translator. At the time, we were searching for two families to live in our shelters and help us to understand how to improve the product. Magdala was living in a tent camp in Port-au-Prince with her mother and daughter. After loosing her home in the earthquake, Magdala's sister moved out of the city with her husband and children to an area called Croix-des-Bouquets. She offered Magdala to move out of the camp and onto this plot of land as soon as Magdala could find a way to build a shelter. The camps can be dangerous and it is hard for me to imagine the constant state of insecurity a family must feel when living in a shelter that leaves nothing between them and the outside but a tarp. After meeting Magdala, she seemed to be great fit for the second shelter. Click here for a 3 min video of the assembly.


As mentioned in the previous post, we initially finished assembling the shelter for Magdala and quickly realized that some of the "emergency shelter" features of the design were not reflecting Magdala's current housing needs. With Magdala's strong support, we decided to beef-up the original design to something more permanent. The canvas roof was replaced with a corrugated steel roof, plywood walls were added behind the vinyl fabric on the first floor for security, shelving was added in the interior, and a plywood door with locks replaced the velcro door. The upgrades went great and Magdala is now living in her new home.


We were worried that the steel roof might make the interior temperature unbearable, but were pleasantly surprised at how cool the interior temperature stayed during the day. The shiny metal roofing sheets reflect the sun and the punched out windows provide plenty of ventilation.

corrugated steel roof instalation

Franky and Val installing roof panels

To the left, Armand talking with Magdala's sister and a view of the sleeping loft overhead. To the right is a picture of the second room with punched out windows. These widows add  visual  space and make the shelter feel much larger.

Magdala and her sister checking out her new home

A special thanks to Franky and Val for their incredible work on the build!

Armand kicking Val's butt in a pull up competition...
Amazing sunset over Croix-Des-Bouquets with the mountains in the background. The stars and moon are equally impressive. There is no shortage of natural beauty in Haiti.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shelter # 2 complete!

Last week we completed our second shelter with the help of three locals, Val, Jackson and Louie. Two tap-tap (bus) rides and a ten minute walk away from the busy city lies a plot of vacant land near the town of Croix-des-Bouquets. In this field frequented by goats, chickens, and small bands of children playing, Magdala's sister lives in a plywood shelter with her husband and two children. This area has witnessed a recent conversion in the last year from agricultural to residential land, where sugarcane and other crops have been converted to concrete houses protected by tall cinder-block walls. Here in this quiet neighborhood reminiscent of the countryside, Magdala and her daughter Ketura are now moving closer to family into their new Uber Shelter home away from the tent city they had been living in since the earthquake.

For more information on Uber Shelter please visit our site and to see pictures of our newest shelter design in Haiti click here.


Monday of last week we were able to ride with the delivery truck to the site and unload the shelter. Upon inspection we identified some damage that happened during shipping. We made note of how to prevent this in the future, and fixed the bent metal frame by reinforcing them with wooden 2x4's.

We returned on Wednesday and did a few more repairs to the shelter that needed attention. This prototype Uber Shelter is almost a year and a half old and this is the third time it has been relocated (from Indiana to Colorado and now to its new home in Haiti). Although it is a predecessor to our current design, we decided to ship it here and give it to a family who could make good use of it.  Wednesday night we stayed at Magdala's sister's house, and enjoyed the relaxing evening watching the sunset and chatting with Magdala and her family. We sat for dinner, held hands during the family prayer, and ate cornmeal porridge together under the glow of a kerosene lantern.

On Thursday we began the build early with a new idea for a leight-weight foundation to distribute the weight of the shelter more evenly on the soft soil. Think of snow shoes for the shelter. Once squared, in place and level, we drilled holes through the two pieces of lumber where earth anchors would be located. Next we pounded the earth anchors deep into the ground and tensioned them out using the tools that were provided for us by Platypus Earth Anchors. These anchors secure the shelter from any vertical uplift that could happen in strong winds. The foundation was ready, so we spent the rest of the day assembling the frame, and spent our second night with Magdala's family. In previous builds, the shelter has gone up in one day, but we thought it wise to take our time under the Haitian sun.
snow shoes for the the shelter made from 2x6s
Friday we finished installing the walls and roof. Magdala made us a delicious lunch of rice and beans with chicken and sauce, with a cold glass of sweet chad├Ęk (grapefruit) juice. I got to play with the kids in a near by field. I helped them to refine their home-made bows and arrows and fashioned mock feathers out of corners of plastic water bags to make their arrows fly straight. That night on our way home we got a ride back from a person who had room in their pickup truck and happened to be on his was to Port-au-Prince just as we finished packing up. The timing could not have been more perfect and had he not driven by we would have spent hours waiting for a tap tap empty enough to carry us, our bags, and tools. Pics from the build below:

Magdala's daughter Ketura helping us clean up before sun set.
Louie and Jackson installing walls and windows. Also notice the shelter resting on the "snow shoe" frame
Kencity, Magdala's neighbor, helping tighten bolts on the second floor
Ketura's version of the Uber Shelter. She might be on to something...
Roof supports in place prior to adding the canopy and a view of the sleeping loft

From left to right: Jackson, Kencity, Genesis, Val, and Finel.  Ketura and Louie in the background
its up!

This week we bought parts from the hardware store to improve Magdala's house. After assessing the design and how Magalas's family will be using it, we decided that the emergency/transitional nature of the shelter design did not fully meet Magdalas current housing needs. We decided to replace the canvas roof with one made from corrugated metal and also add plywood reinforcement to the walls for security. We will be cutting and installing these upgrades over the next few days. We also took a documentary filmmaker out to see Genesis' shelter, brainstormed on our next steps, and invited various aid organizations to come evaluate the shelter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This week's agenda!

We begin building the second shelter in Croix des Bouquets tomorrow for Magdala and her family. This suburb of Port-au-Prince is very different from the urban camp setting of Adokin (in PaP) where Genesis and his family live. The building site for Magdala is in a rural area with an abundance of sugarcane fields, goats, chickens and is an interesting change of pace from bustling Port-au-Prince. The second shelter design is different from the one Genesis lives in, it is the prototype built prior to the newest design. To see a video of this shelter click here. Magdala currently lives in a tent camp in urban Port-au-Prince with her mother and daughter. She feels unsafe in the camp and is living in a shelter that leaves nothing between her family and the outside but a tarp. Magdala's sister lives on a plot of land in Croix des Bouquets, and has offered Magdala to move onto part of this land if she can build a shelter. Our first few weeks in Haiti were spent searching for families to live in two shelters and  Magdala, her mother, and daughter seemed like a perfect fit for the second shelter.


We continue working with Genesis daily and he will be helping us build the second shelter. Below is a before and after pic of Genesis and Irene's home in Adokin camp in the Delmas 33 area of Port-au-Prince.
For more information on Uber Shelter please visit our site ubershelter.com

Feedback and Observations from Genesis and Irene #1

Genesis, his wife Irene and their son Rob Carlos have been living in the shelter for a over a week and during this time Armand and I have been making observations, listening to their first impressions, comments, and suggestions. Here is a short list:

My Observations:  Within a day of moving into their new home, Genesis constructed an 8' ft. tall fence made of scrap wood and tarps around the perimeter of his land. What we have learned is that privacy is an important part of Haitian culture. While designing the shelter we envisioned that the exterior porch area would be open and used for out-door cooking . What we have learned from Gen's family and others in the community is that the kitchen is private and should be enclosed. One man explained that his neighbors can make judgments on how much income he has based on the food his wife is cooking and for this reason they always cook indoors. I imagine the dust and dirt in the camp is another reason for wanting to cook indoors. In Haiti many activities take place outside on a porch. I overheard someone say that in Haiti, if you don't have a porch, you don't have a home. It is hot during the day and porches are the area of choice for congregating, socializing and doing household chores.  The next major modification following the 8ft tarp fence came a few days later when Genesis and his friends poured a layer of concrete on all the outdoor ground surrounding the shelter. Rainy season is approaching and pouring this layer of concrete will prevent the surrounding area from turning into a mud hole.  When we first finished the shelter I helped Genesis move in and it took everything in me to keep my mouth shut and not tell him how I thought the shelter should be used. He and Irene made decisions I did not expect but that make a lot of sense. I was also pleasantly surprised by small details they added to make the shelters theirs, like adding carpet to the bedroom and drapes on the windows. 

Irene's Feedback:

Irene's strongest comments have been around the use of the second and third floors. Irene and Gen chose to make the second floor their bedroom instead of the third floor which we thought would be used as a sleeping loft. They explained that this makes it easier to access the first floor and more convenient if they need to get up in the night to use the bathroom. They are currently using the third floor as storage and it will eventually become the bedroom of their baby Rob Carlos. Another factor for not sleeping on the top floor is that Irene found it very awkward to enter the third floor sleeping loft, especially with a baby in her hand. Irene stated that the third floor should be more than a sleeping loft and have the same ceiling height of the other rooms. She also requested curtains to block the view from the first floor to the second. The first floor is used as a living room and Irene would like the view to the second floor bedroom to be blocked for when they have visitors. Privacy has been a recurring theme.

Genesis' Feedback:

The first concern Genesis had was the strength and security of the corrugated plastic walls. The walls on the first floor could be slashed with a razor by someone attempting to break in, and to fix this problem we installed plywood reinforcement on the first floor. Another design change Genesis suggested was a shelter design with the staircase located on the exterior of the house. He said that if access to the second floor was separate from the first floor he could potentially rent the first floor as an apartment and use his home for income generation.  After sleeping through the first few down-pours of the year with rainy season quickly approaching, Genesis had a few suggestion for a roof with longer overhang on the eaves. The windows in the shelter play a huge role for ventilation and when it rains the windows need to be closed. Genesis believes that with more overhang on the roof, the windows could remain open on the second floor during a storm. Another very important design factor that we overlooked and that was immediately brought up by Genesis was in making the shelter baby proof. We will be working with Gen and Irene to make the shelter safer for Rob Carlos. 






We also wanted to hear from baby Rob but unfortunately he declined an interview...
The day after the build we had a record 13 people on the second floor.
A chat with Genesis and Irene before the plywood reinforcement was installed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bon bagay! (good things)

The shelter is up! Genesis, Linda, and baby Carlos moved in and we are continuing to interact with them daily. The build was incredible and we learned a great amount.The second shelter will be delivered in the next few days and we will be building it in Croix des Bouquets (a suburb of Port-au-Pince) for our new friend Magdala and her family.

From Pomona, California to Port-au-Prince
 The images below show the assembly from the frame to finished shelter. You can see earlier images of the site preparation and assembly further down on the blog. Special thanks to Laurel Cummings for the amazing photography. For more information about the shelter design please visit our site ubershelter.com


View of interior layout

View from second floor


In this photo we are preparing to raise the roof. The reflective wall on the left is the roof of the shelter. The roof and wall panels are made of a lightweight fire retardant and UV resistant material called corrugated polypropylene. We glued aluminum foil to the exterior of the roof to reflect the heat from the sun. So far this has kept the interior temperature bearable under the Haitian sun.

Keep it steady on the left side!




Armand hoisting the roof into place. In this shot you can see the roof vents located along the peak of the roof.



Josh from Indiana tightening frame bolts. He is a Grass Roots United volunteer and came to help us out for the day. There are surprisingly several Hoosiers staying at Grass Roots, last week I counted six. Indiana is representing in Haiti!

View from first floor into the second


Access to second floor

Taking the acrylic windows up to the second floor
It's not as steep as it looks on camera!

Attaching walls

Genesis installing the first wall panels






We have been receiving visitors to see the assembly and finished shelter.

View from second floor


Shot from third floor



Our translator Val explaining to another volunteer how to install the windows

Armand double checking the window functions after installation. We are using mosquito screen and acrylic sheets for windows. The windows open and close and ventilation from the windows plays a huge roll in keeping the interior temperature comfortable.
We had all kinds of help in setting up the shelter. This was an unexpected surprise and it turned out to be great exchange with the local community. It was also a huge learning curve for Armand and I to manage a group of people who were very eager to help but had no experience in setting up the shelter.  Several bottlenecks became apparent  in the current design that need to be addressed in order to make the assembly process more efficient.

Val and Armand installing the door

View from high ground of the Adokin IDP camp in Delmas 33. There are an estimated 30,000 people living in this camp. Lets hope that one day this photo can be used as the "before picture" and the "after picture" is a sea of much better homes.

It has been interesting to see how people with very little manage to find materials to build their own shelters. Almost all the homes in this camp are self built with scrap wood, metal, and tarps. There is even a market for building materials for people living in camps. Street side vendors sell tree branches and USAID tarps to buy and build their makeshift homes. It is also interesting to see the businesses that pop up in the camps. JP/HRO camp, the largest in Port-au-Prince with around 50,000 people, has a main street in the camp where there are vendors, restaurants, cell phone charging booths, barbershops, beauty salons and much more.  After having lost everything, people still find a way to find hope and keep going. Haiti is an example of perseverance and I have been most impressed with how people just find a way to make things happen. Seeing how many people function here has been a lesson in entrepreneurship for me.








Boom! It's up

I think Genesis is happy..

Genesis and his wife Linda in their new home

Armand was in charge of finishing the final detail of the assembly which opened up some time for me to interact with neighbors and community members about their thoughts on the shelter. The gentleman in the white tank top gave some incredible feedback and was very candid about what he likes and about what improvements he would like to see. This wrapped up a great day and was exactly what we came to Haiti for: to hear directly from end users about theirs wants and needs around shelter.

Last but not least, the fourth inhabitant of the Uber Shelter is Junior. He is Gesesis' dog and maybe the cutest thing ever!