Container housing: Asheville group applies the power of tens to Haiti’s housing needs

Exactly one year after Haiti’s epic earthquake—this past Jan. 12—Asheville locals Martha Skinner and her husband Doug Hecker launched their new nonprofit, 10^10 – an inspiration born out of Haiti’s destruction.

Martha Skinner at the HATCH Haiti Panel. Photo by Jorge Raedo.

“In a matter of minutes there were over one million people homeless in Haiti. This led me to think about the ‘Powers of Ten,’” said Skinner, former architecture professor at Clemson University. “All our questions were framed thinking about scales. We were dealing with the solution in real-time as the people in Haiti were in the rubble.”

“Powers of Ten” is a documentary short released in 1968. Opening with a man and women enjoying a park picnic, the film depicts the scale of the universe in factors of ten, starting large with the observable universe (1024 meters) before zooming-in to the couple’s protons and atoms (10−16 meters).

For Skinner, the film was a visual representation of Haiti’s new, and sudden, housing crisis.

“How do we understand the needs of an individual, or one family, and also help thousands quickly?” Skinner said.

Already, Skinner was working on a progressive housing idea – creating homes from shipping containers, readily available and unused in many developing countries. Like so many inspired to action in the earthquake’s aftermath, Skinner began a brainstorming project with her architect students at Clemson.

Skinner knew this idea was bigger than academic wishful thinking, and began immediate action on implementing shipping-container housing as a solution for the thousands of newly homeless Haitians.

Inside the container house.

The architect couple was immediately thrown into the trials and tribulations of the non-profit endeavor in Haiti. From fundraising to networking and collaborations, stabilizing the 10^10 project in Haiti was no easy feat, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Before long, Skinner, Hecker and their daughter Sophia, had relocated to Asheville, which they fell in love with during HATCH-Asheville 2010. Here, the couple felt supported and inspired to continue their new soul-project.

A year after the earthquake, Skinner understood that 10^10 needs to be “an organization about simple design ideas that would have exponential effects on the environment and humanity.”

The Haiti housing project, dubbed SEED_Haiti, became the inaugural project and exponential idea of the new venture.

The SEED_Haiti team had a kick-off meeting in Washington, D.C., this March for a 250-acre project site in the St. Michele region of Haiti, which will become an eco-village with SEED shipping-container housing, along with agriculture and manufacturing, established in partnership with SG Blocks and Volunteers for America. The project was featured at this years HATCH-Asheville Haiti architect panel. The long-term vision is to expand the site to 20,000 acres.

According to the group’s mission statement, 10^10 “propagates and executes simple and beautiful design ideas that have humanitarian and environmental impact, while exploiting contemporary communication media and building technologies to provide smart-design system solutions to pressing global problems.”

10^10 projects “harness the power of the individual within the collective for culturally sensitive local effects that spread globally,” with Haiti’s housing being only one of its many planned endeavors.

The couple will travel to Haiti in July to recruit a displaced family to take possession of the first SEED_Haiti home.

While shipping-container housing remains a controversial human rights topic in Haiti, I have met quite a few Haitians, now living in tents, who are more than open to the idea.

Skinner’s energy and commitment are infectious and inspiring, and the couple’s local and environmental concerns make the 10^10 organization a good fit for Asheville.

Here’s a video by Brian Miele about 10^10 and the SEED_Haiti project.

10^10 / an interpretation of The Powers of Ten! from fieldoffice on Vimeo.



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2 thoughts on “Container housing: Asheville group applies the power of tens to Haiti’s housing needs

  1. Wow. And to think that I always thought just letting the Heritage Foundation build resorts on the land formerly occupied by the indigenous would solve this problem.

  2. Lasereye

    OBSERVATION: Sounds half-baked to me. From the frying pan into the fire. Wow – what a concept to go from tents to steel enclosures. Didn’t they use to call these types of structures hot-houses for prisoners to deal out extra punishment? Like the basic idea but it seems to need a lot more thought and work to get responses from the people who will inhabit this type of structure with their families. You got to remember we’re talking about tropical Haiti here – rust – high humidity – etc.

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