As Haiti rebuilds after its cataclysmic earthquake, the government there has launched a first-of-its-kind design competition to help replace the country’s decimated housing stock.

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On June 17, the Republic of Haiti unveiled “Building Back Better Communities,” which invites architects and non-architects alike from around the globe to create homes for a 12-acre former sugar plantation on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Because the site was not affected by the quake and is city owned, it is an ideal place for government officials to study different housing types before commissioning them for destroyed neighborhoods, according to competition organizers.

The competition, which will have multiple winners, is divided into two parts to attract the greatest variety of ideas, officials say.

For the first, contestants are asked to create prototype houses for an exposition to be held from October to January on the northern half of the site. Those 50 or so houses will be clustered village-like around a tented enclosure that will serve as a meeting space during the exposition, which will resemble a trade show.

During the expo, Haitian officials will browse among the houses, along with representatives of foundations that will potentially underwrite their construction, and select their favorites. When the event is over, those houses could be turned over to local citizens, though details are still being worked out.

The competition’s second part invites contestants to design homes for a new 1,000-resident village that is to be constructed on the site’s southern half. This village, which will probably have 150 homes of a few different designs, is to be paid for by Digicel, a regional telecom company, and Deutsche Bank. It is to be completed by the end of this year. 

To compete for either part, or both, contestants must submit a letter of interest plus a description of qualifications by Monday, July 5, to London-based Malcolm Reading Consultants, which is managing the competition, though the deadline could be extended if initial interest is weak.

Winners, who will be announced on July 2, will then travel to Port-au-Prince for meetings before actually producing homes, which should be able to cool themselves passively and store rainwater, according to details spelled out in the government’s request for proposals. The homes’ construction should also, when possible, generate local jobs.

While design firms have previously proposed houses for Haiti, where 1.3 million people are reportedly still displaced from the January 12 quake, there hasn’t yet been an effort of this size, or coordinated by the government. And it comes not a moment too soon, says architect John McAslan, founding principal of London-based John McAslan + Partners, who helped organize the competition.

“It’s the rainy season, and half a million people are still living in tents,” says McAslan, who has worked in Haiti for two years. “There is an urgent need.”

For more information about the competition, visit the Malcolm Reading Web site.

Editor’s Note: The initial submission deadline has been extended from June 28 to July 5.