When Hurricane Maria descended on the small town of Loíza, Puerto Rico, Milliam Carrasquillo Cuevas’s home was destroyed. Her rural town’s electricity was knocked out for seven months. The roads to and from the town were so badly damaged that flooded residents used boats, machetes, and rope to make their way to neighboring towns to get food and supplies.
But amidst the destruction and grueling recovery that followed, Carrasquillo Cuevas says the efforts of a group of Illinois Tech students gave her community hope for the future.
“This project changed us,” Carrasquillo Cuevas said through a translator on a recent visit to Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus. “And I believe it was in a very opportune time. It was time that we opened our doors to outside people who had the best intentions to help us out.”
This summer, 10 students, led by Design/Build Studio educator and Professor of Architecture Frank Flury, traveled to Puerto Rico to construct a community pavilion and barbecue site. The construction took about nine weeks, and gave architecture students a hands-on experience in designing, fabricating, and ultimately, building a structure for the community.
Flury, who has led past Design/Build projects in Ghana and Indonesia, said Loíza was chosen as the build location after conversations with community leaders.
“(Loíza) is a very interesting community east of San Juan with a lot of need, so that’s where we decided we are going to,” Flury says.
For Flury’s students, who lived with local families during the build, the experience was a learning opportunity on many levels.
“As an architecture student, it was a really great experience to learn and understand the construction process,” Christina Mikhail (ARCH 5th year) says. “I felt like it was a really great blessing to help the community, help them come together, communicate with them, and have fun with them. ”
The new building and the friendships formed with the students will have a lasting impact, Carrasquillo Cuevas says.
“My community was definitely brought together. It was unified and a little bit of happiness was brought back to the community... It has been magnificent since the project was constructed. I am delighted to be in Chicago, and that the university and Frank gave us the opportunity to meet the students. This is the best thing that has happened to us.”