HAITI VISITING SCHOOL: Bamboo and the CityProfile

Taught by: John Osmond Naylor, Diego Perez Espitia, Aditya Aachi, Rose DiSarno

03 December 2014
Port au Prince, Haiti

 

In the mountains above Port au Prince, the flaring glow of the Caribbean sunset has finally turned into night.  Tutors and students sit down on a wooden bench whilst out of the darkness a large bonfire crackles away.  Looking around the perimeter the illuminated faces of the local community stare into the flames, their hands blurred by vigorous thumping on the drums.  The lack of light pollution reveals a kaleidoscope of stars twinkling across the night sky, and all around is blackness.  Being 1,000 metres above sea level the air is cold.  The breeze rustles through the surrounding bamboo and pine trees with the sound of drums resonating around the valley.  The beats make the valley echo to the same rhythms used 200 years ago to secretly communicate vast distances between groups of slaves fighting and earning their freedom.  Every so often the rhythm is broken by a splintering sound followed by a bang.  This sequential ‘bam-boom!’ comes from the bamboo on the fire as the trapped air inside the internodes expands in the heat.  (Some believe this is the source of the name ‘bam-boo’.)  It has just turned midnight and all involved in the AA Haiti Visiting School are celebrating New Year’s Eve, the day before the course commences.  Our hosts are the Wynne family who, through their estate in Kenscoff, have maintained an oasis in the midst of half a century of Haiti cutting down all but 2% of their forests.

 

New Year’s Celebrations in the mountains of Kenscoff.

 

In our mountain studio a regular work timetable established itself fast.  Every morning began early with software tutorials, afternoons were briefly interrupted by the local cuisine of our resident chef, and the evenings were anchored with a lecture given by either tutors or guests. After an initial site mapping exercise in the mountains, students used this mapped dynamic data as the input for a series of form-finding exercises whilst being tutored on new parametric modelling software.  This output as well as a new palette of modelling techniques were absorbed and released in the second part of the course.  The later part of the week also exposed students to aerodynamic analysis simulations to test against Haiti’s hurricane exposure; bamboo material studies; and these were punctuated with a cultural tour and a night out at the infamous Oloffson Hotel.  Barbancourt hangovers notwithstanding, we all strived in the latter days to articulate the strong design decisions which were emerging in the class.  The pace was fast and the dedication of all more than matched this speed.

To be a student on the course, there are a few skills that are essential: treating a power outage as no big deal; enjoying riding in the back of a pick-up truck; and being ready to dance to Vodou Roots music.  The most important skill, however, is the ability to consider two parallel scales in your design methodology.  The brief is to design and test at the building scale, however, students are made aware that this concurrently forms one element of a wider vision.  The final design and the process must both be able to instruct and inspire others in Haiti to see the potential of utilising bamboo.

 

Tutors and students on the Tour of the downtown and Gingerbread Houses.

Tutors and students on the Tour of the downtown and Gingerbread Houses.

Our final jury on the 12 January 2014 took on an added significance, being almost 4 years to the hour that the earthquake happened.  It started with speeches by the Haitian students followed by a moment’s silence.  This reflection only encouraged our resolve as the rest of the afternoon became a manifesto of how we can make Haiti more resilient to both natural threats and move away from the seismically vulnerable current concrete vernacular.  The same concrete urban fabric was responsible for the deaths of over 300,000 souls, and even today 150,000 people are still without a home.

 

2014 Student Project: Pixelating Bamboo by Nathalie Jolivert and Jean Eddy Samedi

2014 Student Project: Pixelating Bamboo by Nathalie Jolivert and Jean Eddy Samedi

The AA Visiting School will be returning to Haiti in January 2015, this time to a studio in Quisqueya University.  We will be engaging with a site in the downtown area to speculate on what role bamboo can play in the urban context.  If bamboo is to be shown to have a future in the Haitian built environment, then it is the rebuilding of the city in which this is most vital.

This greater challenge is matched by the increased support we have been generously granted from new sponsors.  Having overseen bamboo projects in Latin America and South East Asia, Sebastian Kaminski from ARUP will be visiting us over 5 days to work with students. There will also be local architects, designers, ecologists and stakeholders visiting us to share their knowledge and provide students with the wider context of this most vibrant of Caribbean cities.

 

The Architectural Association Visiting School in Haiti will take place between 3 January 2015 and 13 January 2015.  Applications for the course are now open and the deadline for these has been extended to 19 December 2014.

 

For more information:

Haiti Visiting School Prospectus

Haiti Visiting School Microsite

AAVS Haiti on AA Conversations

John Naylor’s Diploma project on AA Conversations

 

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