Haiti Research Design Competition

This month’s Article 25 Open House saw the culmination of our Haiti Research Design Competition, we invited 5 shortlisted participants to present their submissions to our panel of judges. The finalists were:

  • Aditya Aachi
  • Michael Lane
  • Jonathan Matthews
  • Kirk Villedrouin-Mazzeo
  • University of Sheffield Student Chapter  (Bèbhinn Egan, Alyssa Gibbons, Ben Hancock, Ben Hooper, Zak Nicoll, Zhini Poh, Aftab Shaikh)

The illustrious panel of judges included Geoffrey Payne (Geoffrey Payne Associates), Andrew Lamb (Engineers Without Borders’s UK CEO), Franck Robert (Buro Happold senior engineer, worked with Article 25 in Haiti), Ralph Buschow (senior architect Article 25) and Robin Cross (Article 25 CEO).

The aim of this competition was to explore the National Palace site in Port-au-Prince, and investigate how designers can respond to the cultural, environmental and political conditions at the centre of the world’s biggest disaster so far this millennium. The National Palace was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake and is now surrounded by a camp of homeless and displaced people. It is unclear what will happen to the site in the future and it is the complex relationship between its historical influences, the current political climate and presence of international actors that was the subject of this research design competition.

Aditya Aachi started the presentations, using his professional experience from Haiti to inform his submission. He focused on creating a government driven vehicle to work with the NGO community and encourage private investment in Haiti. This manifests itself as a tripartite temporary building through which to build governance, rather than a strictly architectural solution. Aditya focused on an intervention that would address organisational challenges, land rights and the generation of employment opportunities.

Michael Lane’s submission was built around 5 conceptual tools for Haitian’s to rebuild the site for themselves. This was manifest through a series of canopies around the surviving palace site that created flexible spaces to use for learning, debate, disaster relief and demonstration. The president would be housed on the site, but regeneration would occur through public engagement and the interaction between the informal settlement and the palace: “leadership through empowerment not dictatorship”.

Jonathan Matthew’s presentation was inspired by the need to mobilise the site for the Haitian people. His submission took into account the symbolic nature of the site, its central position and the economic future of Haiti. His design proposed a permeable banded site that could act as a distribution centre with civic space at its core and the government palace that overlooked the site. The site would act as a “heartbeat” for the city and the design could be replicated throughout the country.

Kirk Mazzeo, the great grandson of the original architect controller of the now damaged palace building focused on preserving the multitude of cultures and international dialogues that had crystallised in the building. He proposed to keep the building as the centre of politics, rebuilding it with the addition of a new auxiliary second floor for government function. This would be achieved using contemporary engineering to tie into the old structure. He would preserve the facade and add a pedestrian bridge over the site to link the adjacent green spaces and provide a 360o view of the site.

Finally the Sheffield School of Architecture group began the presentation by addressing inequality. Their proposal included, in a series of phases, bringing people from the IDP camp on to the site, building a construction college, health clinic and kitchen/dining area, which would later be turned into galleries. Low density residential, a market and finally government function would be developed on the site. A wall of remembrance would be constructed through the most damaged part of the palace with rubble and would form part of a parade route. They also proposed using a recycled concrete technique and bamboo roofing to encourage economic regeneration with collaboration and innovation.

Given the limited of information available on the site, the judges were impressed with the richness of ideas generated in the proposals. There was a valuable variety of approaches to address the many political and social issues contained within the competition brief. After deliberation the judges selected Sheffield School of Architecture as the winners, chosen for their site wide approach that reached beyond a purely architectural solution.

A number of themes emerged but the panel considered that Sheffield School of Architecture most appropriately addressed the interplay between the social and political, maintaining the historical significance of the site but also making it a vehicle for social and economic regeneration. They were particularly impressed with their closing slogan: “growth with care”. There was also a very sensitive awareness of the need to commemorate the past event of the earthquake and the lives it claimed, while simultaneously looking forward to a better future.

The winners received a selection of humanitarian architecture books and their work is now on the Article 25 website, blog and RIBA Knowledge Community for Development and Disaster Relief.

Overall the event was a great opportunity for all the participants to present their submissions and explain their interpretations of the brief. It ended with discussions collating, comparing and contrasting their findings with the other participants and the judging panel.

We would like to thank everyone who submitted a proposal, our judges for their time and considered thoughts and Pringle Brandon for hosting the event.