Building a Global Community

Over winter break in December 2017, six KU students and two professors traveled to Torbeck, Haiti, to begin the initial building phase of a community center. Hurricane Mathew devastated Haiti in 2016, and it became clear that Torbeck needed a center that also could be an emergency shelter. 

“KU Architecture and Design has a history of working with underserved communities, and this remains an important part of our mission,” said Chad Kraus, associate professor in architecture and Haiti participant. 

First, they had to figure out how to fund their trip. Frank Zilm, Chester Dean Director of KU’s Institute for Health+Wellness Design, partnered with KU Endowment to create a LaunchKU crowdfunding campaign to send six students to Haiti. With a lead gift from Zilm and his wife, Margaret, the campaign raised just over $12,000 from 48 donors
in 30 days.

KU students and professors partnered with the Global Birthing Home Foundation, and the plans for the community center were developed by 12 students enrolled in the first-ever Global Studio course. The students learned how to use locally sourced materials such as rammed earth and bamboo for the center. The project quickly became an important lesson in design and also in transferring technology from one culture to another. 

The goal of the initial building phase was to construct rammed earth walls on an existing foundation. The plans were sent ahead of time, but when the team arrived, they discovered the foundation was not built accordingly. The team taught the community how to build a rammed earth wall at a different location. When the KU team returned home, they went back to the drawing board. Revisions to accommodate the existing foundation will be addressed in a future global studio course.

The students gained valuable hands-on design and building experience during their Torbeck trip. They also learned how to adapt to changing conditions and to work with team members across cultural and language barriers. 

“From the moment we arrived in Haiti, our on-the-spot problem-solving skills were tested and we were forced to re-evaluate our way of thinking,” said Brighid Hegarty, a graduate student in architecture. “I’m glad we were given the opportunity to spread construction knowledge while experiencing a new culture. It is an experience I will never forget.” 


INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE: KU architecture students shared their design knowledge with community members in Haiti. The students gained hands-on building know-how and experienced another culture.