Haiti had not yet fully recovered from four 2008 storms when the 7.0 earthquake dealt the country another devastating blow, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless. In the hierarchy of needs following a disaster, basic shelter ranks near the top, following emergency medical care, water, and food. In response to that need, ZFA Structural Engineers worked closely with Codding Steel Frame Solutions to design a rapid-deployment structure to address Haiti’s emergency need.
The goal was to develop housing that would be relatively inexpensive and light weight. Equally important, the shelter needed to be shipped disassembled in 40-foot-long shipping containers and then assembled quickly without special tools or skills. Yet, the structure had to be resilient enough to resist local wind and earthquake forces. And, from a practical and sustainable standpoint, the structures needed to be designed so that they had the potential of being converted into permanent homes.
No small task, but the two men who accomplished this feat had histories that gave them an edge in understanding the unique requirements of a housing crisis unlike what we experience here in America. J.R. Gunter, president of Codding SFS, had designed modular wood-framed units to house victims of the Kobe earthquake in 1994. Dennis Fagent, a principal and partner at ZFA Structural Engineers, had participated in numerous housing support projects over the years in Mexico and other Third World countries. Both had been working together in realizing the benefits of pre-fabricated, panelized, steel-framed structures.
Leveraging close proximity between engineering and manufacturing and a business relationship spanning decades, Gunter and Fagent maximized the process and benefits. Since the Codding SFS manufacturing plant forms all the light gage structural steel shapes, and proprietary software creates the exact members required with very little waste, the process is both sustainable and efficient. ZFA provided the engineering know-how and specifications for construction to meet the goals.
The resulting units developed for Haiti are 12 feet x 12 feet in plan and are constructed in four-foot-wide panels using light gage metal studs and sheathed on the exterior with T1-11 plywood. The roof structure includes a roof membrane, insulation, and a ceiling finish. The buildings can be shipped with the interior metal studs exposed. This keeps the cost to a minimum and allows for the future addition of electrical and/or plumbing. The wall panels weigh about 100 pounds each, and the floor panels, 150 pounds. The unit weights were purposefully limited to allow two people to handle each panel. The total weight for each house, without optional foundation pier blocks, is 2,100 pounds. And, multiple unit configurations and combinations can be created to suit specific site needs and conserve space.
Codding SFS can make 15 to 20 of these units in a day and is currently talking to the United Way at the national level about using these units as a part of their long-term rebuilding focus in Haiti. These rapid relief structures were presented to the 1,300 United Way organizations across the country in May as an opportunity to participate in supporting “Rebuild Haiti.” ZFA is proud to be involved in this humanitarian effort. Utilizing sustainable pre-fabricated practices to provide safe, effective, versatile, and resilient housing is a synergy of design and construction using the latest technology.