Dome Sweet Dome

Nonprofit seeks to deliver durable homes to Haiti

Dome Sweet Dome
Photo courtesy of Monolithic Dome Inst.

Anyone driving from Austin to Dallas has probably seen them: a series of concrete domes strung together to look like a giant caterpillar. It's a lot more than a roadside architectural curiosity. It's home to the Monolithic Dome Institute, which, along with Haitian rapper and entrepreneur Won-G, has formed the One Dome at a Time nonprofit. Its plan is to create a village of 500 EcoShell domes to provide permanent housing in Haiti. Institute president David South explained: "Haiti's need is larger right now than anything we've seen. You're talking about mind-boggling numbers of people without housing."

This is not the institute's first such project. South explained, "A little over a year ago, we built about 100 structures in Indonesia, where an earthquake had wiped out a village." Through the Domes for the World program, they are readying proposals for similar programs in Dubai, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Smith and Won-G were already working on a proposal for Haiti and were originally scheduled to meet with Haitian President René Préval's office on the day of the earthquake. Now the proposal has added urgency. South said: "The U.S. military asked me, 'How fast can you put these up?' And I said: 'I can't put them up as fast as you can put up a tent. But if you get the roadblocks out of the way, make sure I have the cement, and let me use the local labor, in six weeks I can have two buildings. In six more weeks, I can have 10 to 20 buildings. In six more weeks, I'll have you between 100 and 200 buildings. After that, it's just a matter of if we can get the ground plowed and out of the way.'"

An EcoShell is simple to build: An inflated hemispheric airform is reinforced with steel rebar and then coated with three inches of concrete. That simplicity, combined with durability and low cost, is what could make them ideal for post-disaster reconstruction. Based on his Indonesian experience, where $1 million provided housing for 71 families as well as a church, medical clinic, and utilities, South calculates the Haitian village could cost $5 million. While that sounds like a lot, South has advised partner agencies to look long-term. He said, "I told them, 'If they're not still standing after 500 years, you call me and we'll talk about it.'" For more details, visit www.onedomeatatime.org.

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