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#5356: Pittsburg Architect...Takes on Project of a Lifetime in Haiti (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Pittsburgh Architect, Luke Desmone, of Desmone & Associates
Architects, Takes on Project of a Lifetime in Haiti

 Updated 9:16 PM ET October 13, 2000

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Who would have known that a
friendly knock on the door of the home of a Pittsburgh-based architect
from a curious admirer of his work, would lead to an invitation years
later to collaborate  with the Mellon family on a legendary project in
another part of the world?   On a beautiful day, one weekend, many years
ago, Natalie Taaffe, managing  partner of Linden Partners, an exclusive
fundraising firm with ties to the Grant Foundation, was driving through
Squirrel Hill with her husband and noticed the
  remarkable residence of Luke Desmone, Principal of Desmone &
Associates Architects, Lawrenceville, PA. She stopped and knocked on the
door to inquire who did the work on the home. Charles "Chip" Desmone,
Luke's son, being the only one at home at the time recognized the
Taaffe's genuine interest and gave them a tour of the residence. The
Taaffe's were impressed with Luke's design and creativity and hired his
firm to design a unique addition to their own home.They formed a lasting
relationship which has led to recommendations for other projects, and
ultimately to the project of a lifetime.Linden Partners, a
Pittsburgh-based firm, has worked closely with the Grant Foundation as
consultants to raise funds for Hopital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in
Deschapelles, Haiti, a facility dreamed and built by Dr. Larimer Mellon
and his wife, Gwen Grant Mellon. Inspired by Nobel Prize Winning Albert
Schweitzer, the Mellons dedicated their lives and their fortunes to
supporting healthcare for the 285,000 people in a 610 square mile area
of the Artibonite Valley in Haiti,the poorest country in this
hemisphere. The hospital opened its doors in 1956 and today, the
extended system, including the 108-bed hospital, cares for an average
of 480 people daily. However, after years of use, the hospital is in
desperate need of improvements, and perhaps a new facility. Mrs. Mellon,
approaching 90 years of age, on behalf of her late husband, put out the
call for assistance to preserving the hospital, and thus their dynamic
work. Taaffe, having become familiar with Desmone & Associates
Architects' broad range of capabilities recommended Desmone to handle
the job. He accepted.Desmone realized very quickly that Hopital Albert
Schweitzer project was unlike anything he had ever approached before.
Upon his first visit to Haiti,Desmone discovered the medical facility is
a low, single story building housing two air conditioned operating
rooms, autoclave, scrub rooms, laboratory, x-ray facilities and
pharmacy. The facility also has machine and vehicle shops, laundry
and food service. A shaded inner courtyard functions as the pediatric
clinic. The grounds have a variety of simple structures used to house
visitors and staff, including stone bungalows that are a vestige of its
days as an old fruit plantation.Ms. Mellon's "office" is a simple table
under a mango tree. Patients arrive by donkey. Others may have been
carried by family members for days on a bamboo stretcher in search of
help. The hospital houses a sea of patients in varying stages of
tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid and malnutrition, the characteristic
scourges of a country long plagued by poverty. Says one HAS
administrator, "You'll see more pathology in a month here than you'd see
in a  year in the US." The hospital has its own water supply system and
electric power is supplied by  generator. However, a sewage lagoon lies
adjacent to the hospital and is a potentially serious environmental
issue. About one third of the area it serves is relatively
well-irrigated valley floor. The remaining area is composed of steep
mountainsides with occasional upper mountain valleys. The region has
sparse ground cover, few trees and experiences severe soil erosion in
the tropical  summer rainy season. Although it is only 1-1/2 hours by
plane from the United States, Haiti's statistics  reveal that:

 70% have no access to potable water
 70% are unemployed
 80% are illiterate
 $200 is the average annual income
 50% of preschool children are malnourished
 40% of the population are under the age of 15
the population in 2000 is 7,600,000 and projected to be 11,500,000 in
 On the airplane ride back to the States, Luke realized a design team
was needed to participate in the long range planning (next 40 years) of
the HAS. "The goal became clear. To create a comprehensive and cost
effective Master Plan which  will include the ecological restoration and
sustainable operation and maintenance of HAS." Desmone is currently in
the process of creating a team to "blend our experiences and expertise
in planning, site design, healthcare design, sustainable design,
development and landscape architecture" to complete the Master Plan.    
The majority of the team members will be Pittsburgh-based experts in
their  fields."Understanding the connections between natural ecology,
human ecology and building ecology is the key to an integrated strategy
for improving the  environment and functionality of HAS," says Desmone.
"We will evaluate the energy, resource, material and nutrient flows
through the complex and make recommendations for the optimizations of
each. We will do this using the principles of permaculture and the
application of appropriate technology. Emphasis will be placed on
opportunities to optimize the use of natural systems to achieve these
goals."Desmone proposes to use a Charette design process, an intense
effort to solve any planning and design problem within a limited time,
as the methodology for the creation of the Master Plan. Says Desmone: "A
Charette process operates in a highly collaborative atmosphere allowing
for the participation of everyone involved in the project, resulting in
a highly charged and creative atmosphere. The inclusion of many points
of view results in well-rounded and realistic proposals, with everyone
satisfied that they were able to contribute." Second, "Charettes are
fast." In his proposal for the Master Plan, Desmone wrote, "the
evaluation will include the impact of the ecological footprint of the
facility's buildings and current use of Site on the surrounding
community, and how HAS can become more self-sustaining. All of this will
be done with respect to the existing staff, support network, community
outreach and available resources and abilities." The Master
  Plan recommendations may include renovations to the existing facility
or perhaps a new structure, the cost of which would require an
aggressive capital campaign. (Construction costs in 1956 were $1.5
million.) Says Desmone, "This effort represents a unique opportunity to
transform the  HAS into a teaching tool and living example of how
becoming better stewards of the environment can create a healing
environment and improve the quality of life  for everyone."
Mrs. Gwen Mellon will be receiving the prestigious Albert Schweitzer
Humanitarian Award on October 18, 2000 at Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore, MD accompanied by Barry Paris, Pittsburgh native and author
of the recently released, "Song of Haiti" (Public Affairs, New York) a
story of the lives of Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon at the Albert
Schweitzer Hospital of Deschapelles, the excerpts of which ran in the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, September 17, 2000. Tax-deductible
contributions may be made in the care of the Grant Foundation, Three
Mellon Bank Center, 525 William Penn Place, Suite 3901, Pittsburgh, PA
15219-1709.     Contact: Mary Maloney, President of Cronin
Communications, cellular 24 hours, 412-812-5157, or office 8:30 to 5 pm
EST, Mon. - Fri., 412-276-2779, for Desmone & Associates Architects