Rising Again26 September 2011
Devastated by earthquake, Haitian capital Port-au-Prince is rising from the ashes with a city-wide design masterplan, reports Helen Parton
Port-au-Prince is unique in the context of being a design city. It was one of the worst affected areas following the Haiti earthquake of 2010. The resultant devastation left 220,000 dead and more than 180,000 homes damaged or destroyed, resulting in some 1.5 million people being left homeless according to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).
As the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince was already a dense trading centre, with in excess of 75 per cent of its population living in slums before the disaster hit. These tightly packed, poorly built concrete buildings provided tinderbox conditions for destruction of great swathes of the city. Post-earthquake, the city’s inhabitants had tonnes of rubble and debris to deal with and a city to rebuild.
A framework for official buildings, homes, the commercial district and port has been submitted to the government. It must now consider the overall future built-environment of Port-au-Prince and how to raise the finance to achieve this. There is already a major schools programme underway which, as Darren Gill of Architecture for Humanity explains, is not just an architecture and design story: ‘It’s about building up the trust of the school principals and other major stakeholders. Developing these personal relationships is as important.’
The lack of post-disaster infrastructure is another challenge. Even getting a ladder was difficult,’ says Pauline Nee of John McAslan Architects, which renovated the city’s Iron Market earlier this year, making it the first major building project to be completed. Progress has nonetheless been made in the year or so since the earthquake hit, as the following three case studies demonstrate.
Case Study One
The City framework
The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, a trust set up by the Prince of Wales to promote human values to architecture, has submitted a final report to the Haitian government.
Working with Miami-based architecture practice Duany Plater- Zyberk (DPZ), the Foundation had drafted a document which offered several options and prototypes, having been asked to consider 25 blocks in the centre of Port-au-Prince, including government buildings, the port area and the palace. This also encompasses key locations for schools, cultural institutions and markets.
Explains Prince’s Foundation CEO Hank Dittmar: ‘In terms of design, we have taken into account the historic footprint of the area and used the concept of self-sustaining blocks, which are suitable for earthquake-prone areas.’ At a presentation in January this year, Andres Duany, who heads up DPZ, spoke of luring back to central Port-au-Prince the Haitian middle classes – which had decamped to the city’s hilltop suburbs – as a way of securing the area’s financial viability. When proposing ideas, the Prince’s Foundation considers the natural capital: the interfaces with nature and the environmental features, the social capital aspects of a community including amenities for health, culture and public services, and the financial capital available. It is also a long-term advocate of sustainable urbanism and community engagement.
‘It is through these methods that we hope to help the Haitian people salvage their communities,’ says Dittmar. ‘We hold workshops with key local stakeholders as part of producing a framework.’ Local context and identity in design is vital here ‘We met with hundreds of people, including residents and property owners, in the course of preparing the reconstruction programme,’ he says.
The earthquake offered some valuable lessons for those involved in designing future built-environments about what structures can withstand natural disasters of this kind. An interesting case in point was the ‘gingerbread homes’, outside the actual study area of the framework in downtown Port-au-Prince.
So-called due to the latticework snaking around the roof’s eaves, porches, windows and doors, the early 1900s, high-ceilinged timber structures fared best among the capital’s buildings. Less than five per cent partially or totally collapsed, compared with 40 per cent of buildings in the rest of the city.
‘That many of them escaped with such minor damage offer clues about the design and construction of buildings,’ he says. After community consultation, there was strong support for designs that reflect the Haitian vernacular: low to mid-rise buildings, with ground-floor galleries, pitched roofs or parapets. ‘These were felt to be designs that responded well to the climate and lifestyle, fully reflecting the feedback received during the design charrette,” says Dittmar.
Case Study Two
The Iron Market Project
John McAslan and Partners completed the Iron Market project in Port-au-Prince at the beginning of 2011, one of the first major projects to be finished following the disaster, and the practice’s work has been recognized with an RIBA international award.
The market had been an iconic symbol of the Haitian community for more than a century and so it was a real milestone to see it restored to its former glory. Originally prefabricated by Baudet, Donon and Cie, who merged in 1891 with Eiffel, the firm behind the Parisian tower, the Iron Market it became a key landmark of Port-au-Prince.
The structure consists of a 23m-high central pavilion with clocks facing east and west and four towers with minaret-like structures, plus two 11.5m-high market halls to the north and south. The North hall had already been damaged by fire in 2008, so when it came to the overall repair, this had to be entirely reconstructed.
The architects worked with the Municipality of Port-au-Prince, its advisers and private sponsors. One of the most pressing structural problems was how to deal with the repair of the central pavilion, which had been twisted off its stone plinth when the upper level concrete deck, a later addition to the building, collapsed. New foundations for the central pavilion were designed and the damaged end of the South hall repaired. ‘We salvaged materials from the North hall wherever we could,’ says Pauline Nee, John McAslan’s head of the historic building team. ‘And as 10 per cent of Haiti’s population are engaged in artisan activity, we decided to use local skills where we could as well.’
Contemporary steel sections were used to rebuild the North hall, and even though it was impossible to replicate the metalwork of the original local artists were able to fashion some new decorative corner details.
Because the market is open to the elements, cooling was another important part of the design brief, which is why, in addition to the original louvred facades and bris soleil canopies, ceiling fans were added to the centre of each building, driven by power from photovoltaics. This source of energy is not only sustainable but also reduces dependence on the national grid.
The building was then painted a vibrant orange colour. The project took less than a year to finish and the market is now being used by some 700 vendors, a cornerstone of the cultural quarter’s redevelopment, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Case Study Three
The Education Rebuilding Programme
‘There are quite a few challenges you need to surmount,’ says Darren Gill, Design Fellow with Architecture for Humanity, which is working on education projects in Port-au-Prince and the rest of Haiti. ‘You have to take into account the materials available and your design partners. You have to work with a Haitian team and take into account their skill set and the level of detail required – and the fact that many of the schools have no electricity.’
The Ecole Baptiste Bon Berger school in Pele is one such project on the go. It offers primary and secondary education to 1,200 students with class sizes that are meant to be no more than 35, but often swell to nearly double that. For the scheme a modular classroom block has been developed. ‘We’ve tried to pull everything away from the perimeter because the classrooms are so densely packed,’ says Gill. ‘Climate is also a big issue. It floods yearly and it is semi-tropical, so you have to have a lot of natural ventilation and maximise daylight available.’
Architecture for Humanity was asked by the Haiti Child Sponsorship Program to work on this $1.3m school project, which is under construction and is expected to last around six months. The design will also include break-out areas where the children can play and eat their lunch. There is an existing kitchen facility and a health office on site that survived the earthquake.
Another project is the Home of Knowledge, in the Delmar 75 region of Port-au-Prince. ‘This is a real anchor for the community,’ says Gill. As well as education facility for some 200 students, the new campus environment will serve groups such as the local fishermen’s association. Expected to begin soon, the project consists of three phases, incorporating classrooms, an admin block, kitchen, staff dorms, kindergarten, courtyard and water-collection cisterns.
The very nature of Haiti’s education system is another challenge. Eighty per cent of education provision is largely in poor-quality private schools, while the state system, generally providing better education according to the Disasters Emergency Committee, is without the necessary infrastructure.
‘It’s very important for schools to have additional revenue streams, such as hiring out their computer labs in the evening,’ says Gill. ‘In terms of the fit-out, it’s not just about the design and construction, but about the management and training too. In terms of maintenance, it has to be as low as possible – these buildings have to last.’