Heart for Haiti Brings Student and Alumnus Together

On the same day Hurricane Matthew swept through Haiti, a UT student and alumnus 1,400 miles away forged a connection because of their shared desire to help the people who had lost so much.

The Category 4 hurricane killed more than 1,000 Haitians and destroyed much of the islanders’ way of life on Oct. 4. That same day, in Knoxville, Stacy Cox, president of Studio Four Design in Knoxville and a 1993 architecture graduate, met Andrew Tarsi, a second-year Master of Landscape Architecture student, while participating in the UT College of Architecture and Design’s midterm review.

Andrew Tarsi's outdoor kitchen renderings.

Andrew Tarsi’s outdoor kitchen renderings.

As Cox listened, Tarsi presented his work on a project that called for students to design small components to solve health- and lifestyle-related problems—including water purification, sanitation, remediation of mosquito-breeding areas, and reduction in air- and food-borne illnesses—in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti.

Haitians typically cook their meals on the ground in small huts, opening the possibility for illness and infection caused by environmental contaminants. To mitigate this risk, Tarsi designed a small outdoor pavilion, similar in size to Haitians’ huts, that incorporates proper ventilation, efficient drainage, and cooking-surface elevation.

“Andrew’s design is a practical, functional, and healthier method of cooking for Haitian families,” said Cox. “I hope this design will be the first one built on the island, and as we work to identify alternative materials for its construction, it will become adaptable to the materials Haitians have available at any time.”

Andrew Tarsi's outdoor kitchen pavilion design.

Andrew Tarsi’s outdoor kitchen pavilion design.

Since 2010, Architecture Professor John McRae has led students to design structures for people in Fond-des-Blancs, a small village that took the brunt of Hurricane Matthew and also experienced the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed 220,000 people in 2010.

A week after the earthquake, Cox and his wife Sara, a 1997 interior design graduate, became involved in relief efforts, and while working in Haiti, they met and adopted a little girl from an orphanage near Fond-des-Blancs.

After hearing about Tarsi’s idea, Cox decided to help make it reality.

“Andrew’s design for a kitchen pavilion was an answer to prayer,” said Cox. “The home and the outdoor cooking pavilion belonging to my daughter’s Haitian family had been destroyed during the hurricane.”

Cox and Tarsi are now working together to refine the design for construction. If all goes well, Tarsi’s design will be built under Cox’s direction by a local ministry in spring 2017.

“The design of the pavilion is based on overwhelming needs in the Haitian kitchen,” said Tarsi. “I hope it will provide rural Haiti a construction technique resource for the future.”

The UT community is looking at other ways to help Haiti recover from Hurricane Matthew.

In addition to significant damage to houses and kitchen structures, a roofing system for a sports fields near the school designed by McRae’s students was destroyed. The group launched a VolStarter project to raise funds to repair the roofing system.

“Even a hurricane can’t stop the good that arises from humanitarian intentions and thoughtful design that improve quality of life for people in need,” said McRae.

CONTACT:

Amanda F. Johnson (865-974-0891, amandajohnson@utk.edu)

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, tyra.haag@tennessee.edu)