Cal Poly architecture students will soon have the opportunity to help Haitians rebuild their infrastructure through a new program.

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The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) invited Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) to help construct the Haiti Built Environment Resource Center at the State University of Haiti, where courses on construction and disaster mitigation will be offered to Haitians.

Cal Poly professor of city and regional planning William Siembieda is in charge of organizing faculty support for the program. He was asked to lead the charge by Thomas Jones, dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, because of Siembieda’s experience in disaster recovery and planning.

Siembieda said he is passionate about how the facility in Haiti will aid the people there.

“In this building we’re going to train Haitians in all aspects of building success and all aspects of disaster reduction,” Siembieda said.

Once the building is up, Cal Poly faculty, along with faculty from Virginia Tech and other universities, will plan the curriculum. The program will cover all aspects of safe construction from brick laying to technical design.

The program is designed to benefit Haitian students and citizens, said the director of Virginia Tech’s part in the program, Fred Krimgold.

“One of its primary functions will be to ensure that reconstruction and new building in Haiti is safe,” Krimgold said.

By teaching Haitians earthquake-safe building fundamentals and design, Cal Poly will “help Haitians rebuild their own buildings and own communities,” Siembieda said.

Like most of the country, the State University of Haiti was devastated by last year’s earthquake.

“The university itself lost virtually all its buildings in Port-au-Prince,” Krimgold said.

The State University of Haiti is currently working on rebuilding its campus in a safer way. The building design facility will be a part of that new campus.

Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design was recommended to join the program by Virginia Tech because of the Cal Poly “learn by doing” approach, and because Cal Poly architecture students have more experience in designing earthquake-safe buildings.

“Cal Poly has, first of all, experience from its location in California, with earthquake resistant design and construction,” Krimgold said, “and it has a strong reputation as an excellent training institution for professionals.”

Krimgold said this interest to Haiti also made Cal Poly an ideal candidate for the program.

James Mwangi, professor of architectural engineering, is already doing his part to help Haitians rebuild their country. He is currently on sabbatical in Haiti helping to train masons and construction workers to build earthquake-proof structures.

Students will also be able to participate in the Haiti program in two ways, Siembieda said. Students who wish to go to Haiti can help in the instruction at the new facility, while students at Cal Poly will continue to work testing new materials and new systems for people in Haiti.

“We want to globalize the college education for our students,” Siembieda said.

The real question that students and faculty will be trying to answer, Siembieda said, is, “How do you design a safer building that’s energy and efficient and sustainable?”

“We’re looking at both reconstruction and new construction, at buildings and infrastructure,” Krimgold said.

Cal Poly will team up with Virginia Tech’s Advanced Research Institute, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Ayers Saint Gross Architects + Planners, the Haitian American Engineers Organization, international universities like Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the State University of Haiti, among others.

“We’re working as a consortium at this point,” Krimgold said. “We universities have joined forces with a group of building organizations.”

The planned facility is waiting on funding approval from Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. Once approved, construction will take 18 to 24 months, Siembieda said.

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