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URBANbou

Location: CIAT, Port au Prince, Haiti

Date: 3rd – 13th January 2015

Course Synopsis

For the second year the AA Haiti Visiting School presented 4 unique visions for the material of bamboo in the Haitian built environment. (course brief) Students were inserted into the downtown of Port au Prince to map 4 sites which have been derelict for years and left ruined by the earthquake. Students were asked to walk around and observe the informal activities, the demographics, the traffic movement as well as other dynamic factors to develop projects which could address localised needs, but could be critiques by its response to the needs of the wider downtown.

The long term agenda of this visiting school is to promote bamboo as an alternative to the heavy concrete though highly developed designs which are contextualised for the Haitian culture and climate. Though the teaching of new softwares and structural input from ARUP the goal is to demonstrate the opportunity bamboo presents to contemporary Haiti both in terms of performance and aesthetic qualities.

Through a series of lectures over the week we learnt the many reasons for the downtown still being in the state it is, paralysed form redevelopment. Issues of land ownership, government conservation zones after the earthquake which made investors scared of planning in the long term, failures of security, and most importantly the relocation of businesses to the much more affluent sister city of Port au Prince, Petionville. All this has not stopped an informal occupation and utilisation of the area which has added a new layer of needs sometimes at odds with the stakeholders and the government. Students are then also expected through their projects to further address the historic, cultural, climatic and seismic characteristics of this part of the original 1776 Port au Prince grid-plan. With this part of the city at the coastal edge of a plain exposed to annual hurricane force winds as well as lying to the north of a major fault line on alluvial soil which can heavily liquefy in the event of an earthquake.

With the support of Arup, we were able to develop projects further with structural advice regarding bamboo. The January timing of the workshop over the past two years has meant that the anniversary of the earthquake occurred the day before the final jury. All tutors and students stopped in the midst of the chaos of a studio of architecture students the day before the final presentations to have a minutes silence and hear the experiences of that day from the Haitian students. Any doubts regarding the responsibility of the designer in Haiti are cast aside as students push to ready presentations to show what role considerate design and the material of bamboo can play in a future lightweight Haitian built environment.