Students design Haitian housing

ESW plans sustainable orphanage

This semester, Rensselaer’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World will be working on a project called Sustainable Accommodations for Communities in Need. The effort, lead by Alex Worcester ’12, involves the design and construction of an orphanage for Haitian children from a standard shipping container. Several students are using this project as their capstone, including Nelson Lim ’12, Casey McElvoy ’12, and the President of ESW Andrew Chung ’12.

Two years ago, when the capital of Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the Orphanage of Good Will in Port-au-Prince sustained enough damage to make it unsafe for living. More than 30 orphans have been relocated just outside the city and are now residing in a tent pitched on a volunteer’s backyard. The SACN project hopes to construct a much better home using materials readily available in Haiti. If they are successful, their design could be used all over the country—that’s why the project name is so broad. “We imagine a whole city of these modular housing units,” said Lim.

The club is funded by the Rensselaer Union and has around a dozen active members. It’s actually a chapter of a larger, national organization based at the University of California. Their goal is “building a better world,” with a literal interpretation of “building.” They are very active in promoting campus sustainability and engineering education in general. RPI’s chapter has previously done work in Mexico constructing an “eco-home” and in Peru doing pasteurization. In 2009, they helped construct a solar-powered computer lab in Haiti.

Preliminary design for SACN has already begun. Lim hopes to have the actual container by Spring Break. “We should have a prototype by the end of the semester,” he said. Once the prototype is finished, they will travel to Haiti to tweak the design before they begin to work on the full modular community housing.

The biggest problem Lim foresees is temperature. A big, metal shipping container can quickly become an oven, especially in a hot climate like Haiti. They also have to worry about transportation—they can’t just cut windows in the container, because then it would leak during shipping.

ESW is working with the New York non-profit To Love A Child, Inc., which is currently helping raise funds for the project. Depending on financial progress, SACN’s timeline will move forward or back, possibly facing a delay as long as until the spring of 2013.

Any students wanting to get involved should e-mail and ask about SACN.