When Brendon Brewster visited Haiti after its devastating 7.0 earthquake in 2010, he was struck by the fact that he could see a building completely flattened like a pancake and, right next to it, a building with hardly a scratch on it.
“The reason why is not because the earthquake was stronger on one side of the street than the other side; it really came down to two things: engineering and quality of building materials,” says Brewster, CEO and director of Veerhouse Voda, which aims to construct disaster-resilient buildings in Haiti using fewer materials, less energy, and with faster construction time than traditional methods.
While Haiti was still dealing with the aftermath of the 2010 quake, Hurricane Matthew brought further destruction to the island in October 2016. The hurricane left south Haiti “90 percent destroyed,” according to aid officials, along with a growing cholera epidemic. Millions of dollars have been poured into disaster-relief efforts for the difficult interim, but what happens when the next disaster hits?
In developing countries such as Haiti, rebuilding is especially challenging because meeting the population’s immediate post-disaster needs—food, potable water, medical supplies, and temporary shelter—takes precedence. Addressing the second wave of basic needs, like building permanent shelter and supplying electricity, requires a longer view of rebuilding the infrastructure. Unfortunately, minimum standards for engineering or quality materials are often sacrificed to build quickly and at a low cost.
Veerhouse Voda has undertaken this difficult task of rebuilding with proper engineering, quality building materials, and affordability. Using Autodesk 3ds Max, Revit, and AutoCAD to develop its structures, the company designs and reshapes lightweight steel frames that fit together like LEGOs.
Veerhouse Voda started using expanded polystyrene—a recyclable, environmentally friendly type of Styrofoam—as a brace between the steel because it has insulating properties that help regulate the temperature inside. The company also uses a special concrete mortar on the outside of the expanded polystyrene, strengthening the structure further.
The materials Brewster and his team use and the designs they create are intended to withstand hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and floods. The hope is that their efforts will help prevent displacement in future disastrous events, which are expected to be more frequent given the effects of climate change.
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