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When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12, 2010, just before 5 p.m., the effects were catastrophic. Buildings crumbled, leaving more than 200,000 dead and displacing countless others. Roads filled with rubble. Communication systems were destroyed. Twelve years later, parts of the nation are still struggling to recover. Deprived of permanent shelter, many people continue to live in appalling conditions, with no privacy, no protection from the elements, and no form of safety.
In Titanyen, a village some 12 miles north of Port-au-Prince, the wounds are visible. Paul Farius had spent his life working as a farmer, saving up to build a home for his family. After the quake, all that was left of that home was a pile of concrete. In the decade that followed he raised his eight children in a makeshift temporary structure: wooden posts wrapped with a blue tarp and topped with a sheet of metal. The money that Farius earns goes to feeding his family and paying for schooling.
Residents during a move-in day last November.
“The roof blows off with the wind, the ground floods with the rain,” he recently explained. “It all feels broken and temporary. Even the land this house is built on isn’t mine—it belongs to a friend. This property doesn’t belong to me. Nothing belongs to me. I’ve worked my entire life as a farmer yet own nothing.” His story echoes that of many in the village.
Since 2017, Architectural Digest has teamed with the Atlanta-based nonprofit New Story to raise $650,000 and build a new community in Titanyen. With generous donations from readers, architects, and designers—in particular members of the AD100—those efforts have yielded 100 permanent houses, constructed from the ground up on a breezy expanse of rocky grassland with an ocean view. Each home accommodates one family, often multigenerational, and late last year, Farius and more than 500 others in need moved into the homes, which are only a five-minute walk from the tent encampment where so many of them had lived.
A view of the freshly constructed houses.
“We have to stand for something more,” says Amy Astley, AD’s global editorial director and U.S. editor in chief, reflecting on the brand’s commitment to championing design for the greater good. Upon arriving at AD in 2016, she began searching for a major philanthropic initiative. When she was introduced to New Story by a friend of the magazine, the founder of the nonprofit advisory Gina’s Collective, a partnership made immediate sense. AD is plugged into a vast network of design lovers—all passionate about the power of community. Recalls Astley, “I was actively looking to expand the dream of home for more people.”
It can be a challenge to know how and where to focus one’s charitable efforts when there is so much work to be done in the world. One must consider not only where help will be effective but also where that aid will be welcomed. In order to make meaningful and ethical impacts, New Story relies on community outreach. “I think the way of us checking ourselves is really listening to families and working with local partners,” says Joanne Ng, a senior manager at New Story. “We’re not coming in with our assumptions of what’s good for others and what kind of house they should live in.”
Another scene from move-in.
To determine which families would participate in the program, New Story held a voluntary lottery, followed by focus groups among future residents in Titanyen, to learn what people would need. Families requested outdoor cooking areas, since many use charcoal, and lightweight tin roofs, in case of another earthquake. Most of all, people wanted to feel safe. With an uptick of local gang violence in recent years, it was important for residents to be comfortable walking around their new neighborhood.
New Story also employed local artisans and materials to build the homes, creating jobs for community members and stimulating the Titanyen economy. Some workers have even moved into the homes they built. “As much as possible we use local labor, so that we are not bringing in outsiders,” Ng says. And by building groups of homes close together, New Story avoids disrupting the social fabric of communities.
For Farius, a new home represents a fresh start. Sitting outside his family’s old tent, he acknowledged that it was time to leave it behind. “This new house is a gift from God,” he noted. “This will be permanent. This will be my land. In my name. For my family. And that is freedom.”
A special thank you to our top sponsors for their extraordinary fundraising efforts and generous donations:
Apparatus, Atelier AM, Anna and Gregg Brockway, Bunny Williams Inc., Charles & Co., Condé Nast, Cullman & Kravis Associates, Drake/Anderson, Elizabeth Roberts Architects, Fairfax & Sammons, Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, G.P. Schafer Architect, Gachot, April Gargiulo, Georgis & Mirgorodsky Architecture & Design, Gina’s Collective, Key Hall, Peter Hunsinger, Donna Husmann, Ike Kligerman Barkley, Ingrao Inc., Jamie Bush + Co., Julie Hillman Design, Kelly Behun Studio, Ken Fulk Inc., Marmol Radziner, Martyn Lawrence Bullard Design, Elisabeth McGowan, Hannah and Tracy Monahan, Monique Gibson Interior Design, Nate Berkus Associates, Nicole Fuller Interiors, Mitchell Owens, Julia Pemberton, Redd Kahoi, Rosemary Regis, Robert Stilin, Sara Story Design, Sawyer | Berson, Sobia and Nadir Shaikh, Studio Volpe, Suzanne Kasler Interiors, Nicole and Kevin Systrom, Victoria Hagan Interiors, Alexandra and Spencer Wells