UVA Houses Heading to Haiti - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

UVA Houses Heading to Haiti

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As they set up the panels and diagrams on the fourth floor of Campbell Hall, Sara Harper and Megan Suau can hardly believe the Breathe House will reach its destination this weekend.  The design is years in the making, but in just days, two 20-foot containers filled with panels and other building materials will arrive in Haiti.  Once built, it will mark the start of the project's international impact.

Under Initiative reCOVER, the group of students was charged with designing and constructing a home that was easy to build and ship overseas.  On top of that, Harper, Suau, and the rest of the crew wanted to make sure these homes were environmentally-friendly and affordable for families and governments hit by natural disaster or tragedy.

"We are learning not just how to make a nice detail or how beautiful this building would look if I did this, but actually how it goes together and how to work with people to put a house like this together,"  said Harper, the project manager.

In a couple of weeks, the Charlottesville-based nonprofit Building Goodness Foundation will travel to Saint-Marc, Haiti, and help the students build the home for a family affected with HIV/AIDS.

It is a rare opportunity that architecture students are involved with a project from conception to construction, an opportunity Suau doesn't take for granted.

"There's an incredible amount of responsibilities that you get as a student being able to work on a project like this where, at a firm, it might take years and years to actually get to that point,"  the graduate assistant explained.

The University Of Virginia's School Of Architecture students have been mentored and advised by Assistant Professor Of Architecture Anselmo Canfora.  He says the team has had a rare opportunity to see this project from start to finish, as well as to get involved with other stakeholders in the building business.

Canfora says throughout this process, the group has worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) overseas, manufacturers in southern Virginia, and a number of nonprofits.  In addition, there were elements of controlling a budget with this project, making it even more of a real-world experience for students.

"Whether it's engineering, or whether it's in health, or whether it's manufacturing plants,"  Suau said.  "It's been really great to be able to kind of humble ourselves a little bit and realize we're just a piece of the puzzle."

Canfora hopes that the future of the Breathe House includes going commercial.  He would love to see the concept and materials hit the market so the structures can be made available to more communities across the globe that find themselves in dire post-disaster situations.  He says the leading consumers of this product would likely be governments and government agencies helping to bring relief to those areas.

"We hope that these structures, because of their adaptability, because of their affordability, will be highly accessible to a greater number of people or communities,"  Canfora said.

Along with the gratification in seeing the buildings come to life, Harper and Suau agree that using their skills toward a greater good is really what counts.

Suau added,  "At the end of the day, it's great to be able to go home and say that you've worked on something that will hopefully make some kind of difference."

The Breathe House has had some financial help from awards and grants over the past few years.  Click here for more information on one of the honors the project has earned.
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