Designing hope for Haiti

Students from Weber State University’s interior design and design graphic departments gathered in the Shepherd Union Building to begin a 48-hour pursuit of answers to Haiti’s housing crisis Thursday night.

The departments are sponsoring a 48-hour charrette, for which students will work in teams to design suitable housing options for displaced Haitians. A charrette is an event in which people work intensively to solve a problem during a limited period of time.

According to Kristen Arnold, a program coordinator in the interior design department, the solutions the students are working toward finding fit perfectly within their roles of interior designers.

“The goal of an interior designer is to protect health, safety and welfare,” Arnold said. “It’s not about aesthetics, and we felt like this really fits into those three categories.”

To kick off the competition, physician Nylin Johnson, who spent time in Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake of January 2010, discussed the problems he saw with housing in the area. He mentioned specific challenges, such as a lack of resources, that has impaired Haiti’s ability to rebuild in heavily damaged areas.

Taking these challenges into account, teams must create suitable housing for 60 people, divided into 10 families of six each. Basic needs, including shelter, safety, sanitation, cooking, sleeping and storage, must be met, and the designers may not use more than 67 square feet of enclosed living space per person.

Additionally, teams must take into account what products, supplies and labor will be readily available during construction.

“Sometimes you have to think outside the box,” said Jeremy Farner, an instructor in the design graphics technology department, “and my students are very wood-oriented, because almost everything is made out of wood here. It will be good for them to think outside the box and have to use the materials available in that area.”

Arnold said the motivations behind this type of project were numerous, and that the effort the students put forth will satisfy several objectives.

“One of the things they noticed in our last accreditation visit is that we didn’t do enough global-type projects,” Arnold said.

Other faculty members in the participating departments said the real-world experience the students will gain is invaluable.

“We’re finding that our students don’t have the speed to be competitive in not only scholarly competitions here at the college level,” said Jacie Johnson, a faculty member in the interior design department, “but those that they need for professional licensing. We have to force them into situations where they have to think and produce fast, because that’s real life.”

Shauna Morris, another faculty member in the interior design department, said students will likely find participation in the event motivating, and that they will recognize their ability to practice skills they have been learning in the classroom.

“Those skills they’ve picked up,” Morris said, “they’re able to execute them now, and it gives them meaning in this application with this project. They’re actually being able to apply some of these things and make them really relevant to what they’re doing right now. There is a lot of enthusiasm.”

After the 48-hour window closes, teams will present their designs for two panels of judges, who will decide which plans are most feasible and ingenious.

The designs will be on display for public viewing beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Room 312 of the Shepherd Union Building.