HAITI VISITING SCHOOL: Experimental BambooProfile

by John Naylor (AADipl2013) AA Haiti Visiting School Director
20 November 2013 Port-au-Prince, Haiti   “Can I take some photos of your building site?” I say in mediocre French, “I’m from the Architectural Association in London.” With enormous pride, the site foreman points to two concrete columns which have just been poured. The rusting steel rebar sticks half a metre skywards penetrating into the blue cloudless sky, exposed to all the extreme elements of the Haitian climate. It is Christmas Day 2012 and I am standing in the baking Caribbean sun, surrounded by the sounds, smells and oppressive heat of Rue de Delmas, the busiest street in Port au Prince.   [caption id="attachment_2395" align="alignnone" width="360"] Notre Dame Cathedral, Port au Prince, December 2012[/caption] “Can I go here?” I say as I edge towards an already completed part of the building. “Okay!”   The problems of the Haitian construction industry are widely accepted. However, Haiti has a perfect storm scenario which makes her urban landscape extremely unforgiving. Haiti has suffered from immense deforestation over the latter half of the twentieth century, which has resulted in a lack of timber in the construction industry. The full extent of this, along with an unregulated construction sector, was seen in the earthquake of 2010 when, in a matter of minutes, half the building stock collapsed killing 316,000 people.    [caption id="attachment_2404" align="alignnone" width="360"] Bamboo forest in Marmelade, L’Artibonite[/caption] Back on Delmas, I feel the cave-like effect as I walk into a newly completed part of the building. The cool of the shade is met with the smell of the moisture given off by newly poured concrete. In fact, there is nothing but concrete. Concrete wall, concrete columns, concrete floor, and to my horror as I look up, breeze blocks. A horizontal wall sits levitating above my head. The plywood used to set the blocks is still visible as ripped pieces, embedded into the beams, waiting to act as skis the next time the roof attempts to shake itself free.
The rebuilding effort following the earthquake is still ongoing but the city is being rebuilt in the same fashion as that which caused such a death toll in 2010. In addition to the lack of building quality, the centralised aid effort following the earthquake has increased the capital’s population significantly and therefore, if the earthquake was to strike tomorrow, the death toll would probably be greater than in January 2010. The future for the Haitian construction sector has to be lightweight materials. Port au Prince’s vernacular ‘gingerbread architecture’ proved this, as ironically, the century old timber framed homes in the capital remained standing as the rest of the city came crashing down.   [caption id="attachment_2396" align="alignnone" width="360"] Steel rebar reaching for the sky, Building Site on Delmas, Port au Prince[/caption] The issue of deforestation has, in recent years, been tackled with investment in bamboo. The story of bamboo in Haiti started in the 1950s when Victor Wynne began a process of conserving land to the south of Port au Prince. At this time, the economic realities of the Duvalier regime, and the subsequent poverty which followed, saw a local population without income or source of fuel set about cutting down almost every tree in sight. In this situation, Victor Wynne saw the fast growing, flexible yet strong bamboo as the future ‘saviour of Haiti’. This land became known as the Wynne Farm Estate, and today under the stewardship of his daughter Jane, stands as an oasis of greenery in the middle of Haiti’s barren landscape.   [caption id="attachment_2397" align="alignnone" width="360"] Bidonville (Slum), above Petionville, Port au Prince[/caption] The vision for the land was always to create a campus which could become a home for researchers and academics to come to Haiti and join the battle against the ecological catastrophe. It is this dream which forms the brief for the AA Visiting School.
The AA Haiti Visiting School planned for January 2014 intends to merge both the material of bamboo with the international network and design methodology of the AA School. The format of the workshop will follow an initial mapping exercise which embeds students into the last remaining Haitian wilderness, to map the dynamic factors on the Wynne Estate. In groups of three, students will take this raw observed data as the input for a series of form finding exercises in 3D design software. The output will be taken by each group and developed to meet both the demands of the campus program and, by introducing students to climatic analysis software, the realities of Haiti’s annual hurricane winds.   The remaining third of the course will be used to focus on bamboo and how the material characteristics can be used to realise the groups’ formal output as well as provide seismic resilience for their proposal. For this students will be lectured by local bamboo architects and a visiting bamboo specialist. The long-term goal is to strengthen the ability for bamboo to be applied into an existing design process and not be used as the basis of the project – the notion of bamboo in the building, not a bamboo building.   It is this process and subsequent graphic output which will help promote bamboo to those already building in Haiti. Over the course of the workshop all tutor lectures, cultural lectures and visiting professional lectures will be open to those from the local community. In the long-term, the work of the school will be available open source to those who wish to apply bamboo into their own projects. The AA Visiting School will contribute towards the growing prevalence of bamboo in the construction sector, the by-product of which, is the increased growth nationally and contribution to reforestation.   For more information: The Architectural Association Visiting Workshop will take place between 2 January 2014 and 12 January 2014. Applications for the course are now open. Haiti Visiting School Programme Brief Haiti Visiting School microsite John Naylor on Projects Review 2012-2013 An excerpt from John Naylor's 5th year project, Sylvo Cité