Humanitarian Architecture Drives Students From Kentucky to Haiti

photo of UK student and child at Haiti orphanage
photo of 2 children at Haiti orphanage
photo of students and Bruce Swetnam presenting plans for Haiti orphanage
photo of destruction of Haitian orphanage by destruction - element of plans for rebuild

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 17, 2017) A call to help build a Haitian orphanage in University of Kentucky Architecture Professor Bruce Swetnam’s spring 2017 studio has evolved into a project driven by a passion for humanitarian architecture.

In April, six students went on the inaugural trip to Chez Moi orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They experienced firsthand the needs of the girls who lived there as well as their culture to fully understand how best to renovate the building. “We had to experience the site, the climate, to make it realistic,” said Nick Hodge, a fourth-year student from Lexington who went on the trip. “Being able to watch them (just) be, to interact with them, gave you insight into what was really important to them and what type of space they needed.”

In 2010, the orphanage was severely damaged by an earthquake that registered a magnitude of 7.0. Swetnam had firsthand knowledge of the damage in Haiti, having made previous philanthropic trips to support the rebuilding of the country in his personal time.

After this latest trip with his students, the news spread and now many more are interested in participating in the orphanage renovations — and perhaps even making humanitarian architecture their profession after school. “The last day before we flew out, we were talking and asking how this fits into a professional career,” said Abbi Evans, a first-year graduate student in architecture from Simpsonville, Kentucky. “Maybe social impact architecture is possible as a career, maybe we should pay attention to this and not just write it off as a side job.”

Students from Swetnam’s studio last semester, as well as those in the current studio, have created the Big Blue Crowdfunding project “Humanitarian Architecture: Empowering Haitian Orphans” as a means to raise funds for travel to Haiti and additional building materials. Their goal of $5,000 is nearly at the halfway mark, which is encouraging to Professor Swetnam, who also serves as associate dean of students for the UK College of Design. “The more travel money that comes means more students can go to the orphanage and be a part of this humanitarian effort,” he said. “It will also provide more materials for the renovation.”

To help students discover this niche of architecture and its possibilities as a career, the School of Architecture in the UK College of Design needs your help. To contribute to the crowdfunding project, please visit and select Humanitarian Architecture.

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