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MIT professor, students help Hondurans rebuild after Hurricane Mitch

Will design the first multi-story walk-up housing ever built in Honduras

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Jan Wampler believes in sharing MIT's richest resource -- the skills of its faculty and students--with those who need it most. In this instance, the architecture professor is working with a group of graduate students who are reaching out to the people of hurricane-torn Honduras to design new housing for the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

When Hurricane Mitch tore through the tiny Central American country last October, it killed 6,700 people and wiped out 70 percent of the nation's crops. Ten thousand people were left with only tents for shelter, creating a disastrous housing shortage for Honduras, the second-most destitute nation of the Americas. Only Haiti is poorer.

"MIT has all these skills and great resources. I feel like we ought to use them to help other countries," said Wampler.

In January, he and four MIT graduate students (Juintow Lin of architecture, Tina Pihl of urban studies and planning, Kathryn MacLaughlin of civil and environmental engineering and Bruno Miller of aeronautics) traveled to Honduras to survey two cities -- San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa -- for an appropriate site for a collaborative project with the Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana (UNITEC) of Honduras.

They found thousands of Hondurans living in makeshift shelters of canvas and plywood or other found materials pitched in grassy areas on the sides of hills.

The group chose to design a mixed-income complex for 100-200 families (800-1,000 people) in a neighborhood in Tegucigalpa called Colonia Kennedy, after John F. Kennedy.

The complex will be the first-ever two- or three-story walk-up style housing in the country.

"The idea of housing in the form of walk-ups is very new in Central America, but it's becoming very important as cities run out of space and their populations keep growing," said Wampler.

"The buildings will be integrated into an already existing community, which alleviates one of the biggest hurdles for the success of these kinds of projects."

The eight-acre site in Colonia Kennedy will receive the attention of 12 MIT students in architecture, civil and environmental engineering, aeronautics and astronautics, and urban planning, who will earn academic credit for their work.

The team will create a preliminary plan for a sustainable community, addressing concerns for water, sewage, erosion, architecture, public space and even distance learning. Wampler hopes to include a small library with a computer terminal for this purpose in the public space. They will present their plan to the mayor of Tegucigalpa April 17-20.

Wampler is optimistic about the chances of the housing complex being built. "If our plan is received enthusiastically, the preliminary design could be turned into design and construction documents very quickly by UNITEC," and built within a few months, he said. Disaster relief "money is coming into Honduras, but they don't have projects for it."

"For students, this is a chance to experience different societies and cultures, and to design within these parameters. They also benefit from working toward a common goal alongside students from other departments and academic disciplines," he said. "It has incredible educational value."

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