In a new book, Architecture by Moonlight: Rebuilding Haiti, Redrafting a Life, Paul Fallon ’77, SM ’81, MArch ’81 recounts his two-year challenge to help design, plan, and build an orphanage with the Gengel family in honor of their daughter who died in the 2010 earthquake. 10.16.14 - Fallon cover

Published just ahead of the five-year anniversary of the natural disaster, the book tells one of the many compelling stories of Americans trying to help. “It’s a positive story,” says Fallon, “and we need more positive stories about Haiti.” Listen to Fallon discuss the book in this Alumni Books Podcast.

“The thing about Haiti that’s very hard to convey in this country is that it is magical,” Fallon says. “Haiti is magical. It’s deforested and it’s ugly and it’s poor but it’s also mystical and spiritual and deep. It’s just phenomenal to think that people lead such rich and deserving lives that are so different than our own.”

Like many, Fallon felt the need to contribute in 2010, but the earthquake troubled him on an intellectual plain, too. “So many people died because of the buildings,” he says.

In the podcast, Fallon connects his time in Haiti to his experiences starting out at MIT.

The orphanage Fallon designed, shaped like the letter B in remembrance of Britney Gengel.

The orphanage Fallon designed in Grand Goave, Haiti, shaped like the letter B in honor of Britney Gengel.

“It reminded me of freshman year at MIT, where you’re not pass/fail, you’re pass/no-pass. That is what I experienced on the job sites. In Creole, if someone makes a mistake, you don’t say ‘mal,’ or bad, you just say ‘pas bon.’ That’s really what freshman year at MIT is about. It’s about pass or keep working it and you will pass. It’s an attitude about failure.”

“And that attitude is what helped us succeed in Haiti. When things went bad or came up short every day, you would just say ‘pas bon’ and you’d come back at it and work at it. I really feel like that’s an integral aspect of MIT. Failure is not even in the vocabulary, that’s what I liked. And then I found that failure is not in the vocabulary of Haiti. I never said ‘mal’ to anyone, I said ‘pas bon.’ A lot.”


Students collect donations for a relief fund in Lobby 10. Credit: Liv Gold

On the morning of Friday, March 11, Ken Endo, a Course 6 PhD candidate, was scanning his Twitter feed when he saw a message from a friend in Japan: Trains were stopped, fires were spreading, people were panicked. Across campus, Ryusuke Sakamoto, a Course 1 graduate student, received an email from his wife in Tokyo: The largest recorded earthquake had just struck off the coast of Sendai, and a powerful tsunami was sweeping northeastern Japan.

In the hours that followed, Endo, Sakamoto, and other students began the painful process of obtaining and sharing information about the crisis in Japan. Endo sent out an email partway through the day on Friday, suggesting that the Japanese Association of MIT (JAM) convene later that evening to share news and support. More than 50 people came out.

“People were very upset,” says Endo, “but also controlled and able to organize.”

Together with students from Harvard and Tufts, JAM made plans to set up stations in Lobby 10 and Stata where people could make donations and write messages. Inventively, the group has asked people to write messages on a small white board, and then they take photos of the people holding their messages. The group will post the photos on a website shortly.

Endo reports that his family is safe. On Friday, before the Japanese government issued evacuation orders, Endo looked at news reports and tsunami projections and advised his mother and brother in Numazu to flee. Sakamoto’s wife is also safe, although communication with her has been inconsistent, he says.

How to Help

If you’re on campus, visit Lobby 10 or Stata Monday through Friday from 9am – 6 pm to make a donation or write a message. Donations will be given to the American Red Cross and/or the Japanese Red Cross.

The MIT Figure Skating Club and JAM are hosting a benefit skate for Japan on Thursday, March 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the Ice Arena at MIT’s Johnson Athletics Center.

If you’re not on campus, you can donate to the American Red Cross or the Japanese Red Cross directly.

Learn More

Coverage by the New York Times:

Coverage by NHK World TV:

JAM joined with other Boston-area Japanese students and professionals to create Action4Japan. Visit their website for news and announcements:

Letter to the community from President Hockfield on Japan: Community members in MIT Japan program are accounted for and safe

Public event at MIT: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis, Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM, MIT Bldg E15, Bartos Theatre (Atrium Level)

MIT experts discuss Japan’s nuclear past, present, and future from a political and engineering perspective.
The presentation will include an  eyewitness account of the crisis and the Japanese government’s response.

Guest speakers:
Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of the MIT Center for International Studies
Ken Oye, Associate Professor at MIT and Director of the MIT-CIS Program on Political Economy and Technology Policy
Michael Golay, MIT Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering

Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for International Studies, MIT-Japan Program,
and Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering

Free and Open to the Public | Light Refreshments