Fò Kay Design Concept

Haiti deserves better houses, not ones made of concrete and concrete blocks, the materials largely responsible for the 180,000 deaths in a quake the New York Times described as “the greatest urban disaster in history.” These materials are ‘traditional’ only because sources of lumber were lost decades ago, largely to make cooking charcoal.

In Haiti most houses are constructed by owners & neighbors using these methods: undersized, insufficient reinforcing & weak concrete. Most use the limestone sand and aggregate the Haitian Government ineffectively banned after the quake because it makes weak concrete.

Where better to look for inspiration than Haiti’s proud vernacular architectural tradition?

I was delighted to find many old ti-kays (small houses) on a visit to Haiti in 2011. Reinterpreting this tradition with modern materials and high-tech construction methods led me to appreciate why it is so well-suited to Haiti’s lifestyle and climate. It has been documented that the design came to Haiti from Africa and from there to the United States, most notably to New Orleans, where the term shotgun house is used to describe the style.

While researching Haiti’s traditional domestic architecture, I was introduced to Jay D. Edwards, a professor of Anthropology & Geography at Louisiana State Univ. and a leading expert in Louisiana’s (and Haiti’s) vernacular architecture. I asked Jay to comment on HabiTek’s design, and he responded, “Your ti-kay looks great. It will really fit right in to the cultural landscape.”

HabiTek’s roof shape evolved with the understanding that hip roofs perform particularly well in hurricanes. Further, the change in slope near the eaves makes it easy to add additional rooms, typically done by Haitian families. The pre-engineered steel framework for this 47.5m2 ti-kay, after a short training period, could be erected by any two able-bodied persons in a day. It can then be enclosed in a variety of ways including wattle & daub, prefabricated panels, earthbags, or even concrete block. Side extension options can include an indoor bathroom, additional storage, a workshop, or another sleeping area.

Haitian architectural traditions hold many lessons. We look forward to comments from Haitians about HabiTek’s model house for Haiti. Sincerely, G. Higgins, Architect

Click to view a PDF version of HabiTek’s Fò Kay floor plan study.