It seems like a no-brainer for us all to agree that everyone has a right to adequate shelter, yet millions of people around the world live in housing that undermines their health. To architect Peter Williams that makes no sense.
He speaks from experience. A rodent found its way through holes in the wooden floor of his childhood home in Kingston, Jamaica. His father contracted a bacterial infection that paralyzed him. So Williams grew up knowing that a house was not just shelter. It could also be a health hazard.
These days Williams is an architect and social entrepreneur with a long list of degrees and awards. In March 2005 he launched a blog connecting architecture to issues of fear, epidemics, and public health policy planning. Over the course of the next year he was inspired by feedback to found a non-profit organization to focus on the intersection of health and housing.
ARCHIVE (Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments) was born. The idea is bigger than the hospitals and health centers that are the more usual recipients of aid dollars. Those facilities are important, but they wouldn’t be dealing with so many patients if everyone had decent housing.
Take one example, Kay e Sante nan Ayiti (Creole for Housing and Health) in Haiti. Windowless, cinder-block houses shelter many of the countr’’s poor. They are ideal for growing mould, which makes them incubators for tuberculosis. ARCHIVE sponsored a competition for interdisciplinary teams to design houses that would improve people’s health. They were to be affordable houses made of local, sustainable materials.
The winners were a team from the U.S. and Wales who created “Breathe House”. They kept ventilation, sanitation, and social interaction at the forefront of their design process and came up with a house that even takes into account Haiti’s enormous struggles with HIV/AIDS.
As I write, the Canadian Red Cross is sending aid to Attawapiskat, a northern Ontario Cree community, where more than 100 people are living in tents and construction trailers. Others are living in woefully inadequate housing. That’s in a rich country like Canada.
I know ARCHIVE cant address all the housing issues in the world on its own, but it is spreading inspiration around the globe. The message that housing and health are intertwined is one all the governments of the world need to heed.