Architectural design is a process that begins with grand concepts and evolves into tedious minutiae. It is not always linear, we often circle back to ensure that the part and the whole work together, but in general architects work from the global to the specific. A $300 million dollar hospital that takes three years to design starts by analyzing potential building forms in relationship to topography and highways, prevailing winds and solar angles, until we whittle down with increasing detail and draw in fractional inches the sealant joints at wall flashing and the handrail profile that thousands of fingers will grasp over the building’s lifetime. The rush to complete construction documents involves hundreds of ever more detailed tasks until, all of a sudden, every item on the list is crossed off. All of our analysis and coordination are translated into piles of ink on paper or a single disc. The inspiration ends with a whimper.
We experienced the construction equivalent today at Mission of Hope. We poured the second floor slab, forty-seven hours straight of sand and stone and cement and water and guys with buckets. When the concrete begins to flow I have very little to do; I must catch the gaps in the formwork and the errant piece of steel reinforcing before it gets cast for the ages. I move among the crew to lend support and check the quality of the mix, but I am superfluous among eighty strong men tossing concrete with fury, grunting and chanting in a language I still cannot understand.
The first overnight I remained on site and napped a few hours just to feel the pulse of the work. The second night I went home and logged a solid sleep. On the final morning I set up the curing tarps and directed the water boy but spent the rest of the day at Be Like Brit, detailing the metal spiral stair and laying out the medical equipment in the exam rooms. When I stopped by MoHI on the way home, Lex exclaimed. “We did it!”, and it took me an instant to register what he was talking about. My mind had already moved on.
Mission of Hope’s new school is fully built. In the United States completing the structure represents only twenty to thirty percent of construction; our internal systems and finishes are elaborate. But here the structure is key; and the school stands at its full expression. The rest will come together in a typically messy Haitian way – we will add power and plumbing and plaster in and around people using the building. The cooking ladies have already taken over the kitchen; it won’t be long for other uses to squat in the solid but unfinished structure.
There is still much to do, remove the forms next month after the concrete is strong, pour the ground floor slabs and steps, trench the drains, install windows and doors. I can help, but this is stuff Lex and his guys have already done before, albeit on a smaller scale. My unique offering, the stuff they could not do without me, is finished. In time the satisfaction will settle in, but right now the grandeur of our feat eludes me. I am still swimming in all the little attentions I have paid to this building over the past eighteen months as we took our big idea and made it real, right down to making sure the last burlap curing tarp is in place.
Two hours to go and everyone is working on top of each other
Time to Sleep