C&B Notes

Designing Around Cholera

Beyond the physical destruction it wreaked, Haiti’s 2010 earthquake unleashed one of the worst cholera epidemics in modern history.  The MASS Design Group is designing and helping build the country’s first permanent treatment facility for the infection in Port Au Prince.  Among other smaller innovations, MASS is making a major advancement in wastewater treatment and removal/reuse.

Most [cholera] treatment was still happening in tents that were designed to last for months, not years.  Worse yet, when they went down to Haiti to research the epidemic, MASS found a critical flaw in the ad hoc system: contaminated waste was being dumped illegally, frequently ending up right back in the water table.  In response, MASS designed a facility with two distinct but equally vital jobs: it treats both people and their waste water.

On one level, the problem is one of infrastructure.  Since there’s no centralized, city-wide system of waste management in Port Au Prince for facilities to tap into, most temporary clinics subcontract their waste removal, putting contaminated matter aside until contractors can retrieve it for transport to independent processing facilities outside of town.  This breeds another problem: accountability.  “In that handover, there’s a huge margin of error,” says Michael Murphy, MASS CEO and co-founder — one that gives rise to the possibility of new infections.  The only way for MASS to break the cycle, then, was to ensure that their facility treated 100 percent of its waste water on-site.  With the help of California-based Fall Creek Engineering, MASS incorporated a passive purification system directly below the treatment center.  Waste spends up to five days passing through a series of vertical chambers, with anaerobic bacteria breaking down hazardous matter from solid to liquid along the way.


The treatment center, currently under construction, features a number of other smart design touches.  Many are geared simply towards keeping the facility clean.  In a highly contagious environment like a cholera clinic, minimizing spillage of waste water is paramount, so the design calls for deep, concrete sinks set directly into the building’s foundation.  The basins resist spills, thanks to the concrete, with the drains taking waste water directly to the treatment facility below.

Cholera clinics also require constant cleaning.  This one will be scrubbed down four times a day.  MASS designed the interior to make that as easy as possible.  The composite terrazzo floor is amenable to mopping and bleaching; lifts on the edge of the floor plan feature drains where excess water can be pushed; and an open-air, pavilion-style design promotes a continuous cross-breeze, meaning everything dries quickly with the open air.  All the water needed for the daily cleaning and laundry comes from rainwater, collected by catchments built into the structure.