Sign In, Renew, Sign Up

Search AIA

Search AIA Go

Architect's Knowledge ResourceDocuments

Page Tools

Reed Insight and Community


AIA Members and Architectural Universities Impacting Reconstruction in Haiti
An Interview with Sam Moschelli

By Amanda L. Gorning, Associate AIA, LEED AP

Port-au-Prince, Haiti After the Earthquake
Photo credit: Photo credit: Terri Vruggink

In the early-morning hours of January 12, 2010, a disastrous earthquake hit the country of Haiti near its capital, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. Aftershocks continued for nearly two weeks after the initial earthquake, many measuring 4.5 or greater. So far, the Haitian government has reported approximately 230,000 people as dead, with the number expected to rise. Approximately 300,000 were injured, and over 1,000,000 were left homeless after their homes were destroyed.

Out of pure happenstance, Lawrence Technological University (LTU) in Southfield Michigan had already been planning to send students on a spring break trip to Haiti to begin building two homes for an orphanage. A friend of mine, Sam Moschelli, had signed up to lead this team of students. As a result of the devastating earthquake, the orphanage that LTU was working received nearly 300 additional orphans, increasing the scope of the spring break trip to four homes. In partnership with the LTU team, Donald Stevens, owner of Shelter2Home, REACH and Stucc On Steel Building Systems, Joined in planning and completing reconstruction efforts on this project.

I sat down with Sam before he left for Haiti so he could share some of the details of his role in the Haiti reconstruction efforts.

Amanda Gorning: Sam, you brought to my attention Shelter2Home and REACH. How did you first become involved with these organizations?
Sam Moschelli:
I was introduced to Donald Stevens, founder of REACH and Shelter2Home, in 2004 when I interviewed him for an article that I was writing for my fraternity newsletter. I’ve stayed in contact with him over the years. As a fellow Lawrence Technological University alum, he approached me about getting LTU involved with the reconstruction efforts in Haiti through a project that can be done over Spring Break. Ironically, the earthquake hit just before this year’s Spring Break when the students were going to be going over to Haiti.

AG: What will be your role in volunteering for Shelter2Home and REACH?
My role is Director of Design and Sustainability for Shelter2Home. Donald had contracted me for design work on the shelters for Shelter2Home, so he could concentrate on the marketing efforts. Plus, I volunteer for non-profits through my fraternity, so this role was right up my alley. I’ll also be assisting with REACH, which helps aid children who have been orphaned through natural disasters, in this case, the orphaned children who have been affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

AG: REACH is focusing on the PWOJE ESPWA SUD orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti, which is where you will be volunteering your reconstruction efforts. Would you tell us about this project?
REACH has been working with the PWOJE ESPWA SUD orphanage for more than 18 months now. Lawrence Technological University has teamed up with REACH, and has planned a March 2010 Spring Break trip to Haiti. There have been many different needs that REACH has been working on before the earthquake. Now, with the aftermath of the earthquake, there has been an influx of children coming into the orphanage, which has increased the need for housing and staff. Our responsibility will be constructing a permanent girls housing complex in Les Cayes for the orphaned children. REACH has also developed a concept of Mission Village, which will help provide job training for hospitality-based jobs, such as in hotels, and will also teach construction skills to help in construction of the shelters being provided by Shelter2Home. This goal of Mission Village is to bring job training to the orphaned children so that it will provide them with the job skills needed in the work force for after they leave the orphanage.

AG: REACH’s efforts sound very promising and so do the shelters from Shelter2Home. They are emergency shelters first, but then can be turned into permanent housing. Would you walk me through a typical installation?
The shelters are made of a steel frame and cladding system with mosquito netting for the doors and windows; a kit-of-parts. To assemble it, you bury the framing system six inches into the ground, and the floor is built up enough to anchor the steel framing into the ground. If the winds are high, cables or tie-downs are used to keep the winds from blowing the walls over. The shelters can be easily disassembled, whether there is a forecast for a hurricane or if the structures need to be moved. The temporary shelter is typically a one room structure, which then becomes the core of the permanent structure. To become a permanent shelter, a concrete foundation is poured, and the steel framing is embedded into the concrete. A concrete floor slab is then poured, and the steel framing is finished with stucco. From this core shelter, you can add on rooms such as a bedroom or the utility group, which consists of a kitchen, shower and toilet. Each shelter is easy to assemble as is comes panelized, which saves on installation time. Right now, the shelter system is shipped into Haiti. The goal is to open an office in the Dominican Republic, so that manufacturing can be local. A local manufacturing site will help to create jobs. The idea is for this manufacturing office to be self-sustaining.

Framing of the Shelter2Home System
Photo credit: Shelter2Home

AG: The shelter building system, which is comprised of prefabricated composite panels made of light gauge steel, Portland cement, and sand, is sponsored by Stucc On Steel, and can be erected in 14 days or less. As architects, we want to know, are these shelters structurally sound? Have they been tested? Is there a building code in Haiti?
Yes, the shelter panels are structurally sound. The shelter panels have been engineered by a structural engineer and calculations for the various loads have been done on the panels, and on the fully erected shelters. They can be built up to three stories high. They are durable, and have already been through the harsh seasons in Sri Lanka, where they have had severe weather since the shelters were first erected in 2004. Again, the framing system is embedded in a concrete foundation, the steel framing is light gauge steel, and concrete stucco finish on metal lathe attached to the steel. There is no building code in Haiti, but the building system for the shelters have been engineered to properly hold up under the conditions experienced there.

AG: Do the building materials get sponsored by other companies?
Yes, companies can and should donate materials. We currently get all of the material shipped in, so the big issue right now is the cost of getting the materials to Haiti. Companies have donated doors, windows, and even cabinetry.

AG: Are the shelters configured in a community such as a suburb, or are they randomly placed?
The shelters are grouped in clusters. The government subdivides pieces of land, which are distributed among groups of Haitians. Currently, we are trying to devise a master plan for the clusters and the utility groups, however, we need civil engineers for the grading, especially for during the rainy season and mudslides.

AG: One last question, what do you anticipate for your trip and experience in Haiti? Do you have any expectations?
Well, I’ll be chaperoning LTU students, so I’m not sure what to expect. We’ll be flying into Port-au-Prince, and driving to our destination, so I’ll be interested in what I see along the way. I’ll be meeting with the Shelter Haiti Group, and we’ll be assisting in organizing our relief efforts. I hope to keep a daily diary and take a lot of photos. I hope to have discussions with the Haitian orphans to get a sense of their culture. I’ll be mentally preparing for some culture shock; I’m sure it’s very intense there with the death and destruction of the people and buildings. My expectations? I hope to have a better understanding of their culture and how it transforms into their architectural context; what are their norms of construction and how does it relate to their culture. It should be a very worthwhile experience.

Sam Moschelli

Sam is currently in Haiti working with Shelter2Home and REACH in helping to reconstruct Haiti. Part Two of this article will appear in next month’s issue, and will cover his experience working in Haiti and becoming involved in the Haitian culture.

REACH (Reconstruction Efforts Aiding Children without Homes), a non-profit company, “brings environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings to children affected by natural disaster, poverty, and war around the world.” REACH was founded by Donald Stevens after the December 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka to aid in reconstruction efforts. From his efforts with REACH, Stevens developed and launched Shelter2Home, a for-profit company set up to create shelters for those needing homes.

For more information on Shelter2Home, REACH or Stucc On Steel, please visit their websites.

To see the AIDG Blog Interviews of Donald Stevens of Shelter2Home please go to:

To see the portfolio of Terri Vruggink and her Haiti image portfolio please visit:

About the Author
: Amanda Gorning is an Assistant Editor for AssociateNews and works for Harley Ellis Devereaux in Southfield, MI.


Footer Navigation

Copyright & Privacy

  • © The American Institute of Architects
  • Privacy