The AA Haiti Visiting School is looking to change the relationship the Haitian built environment has with bamboo and lightweight materials. The geographic and cultural context is extremely important to the brief. For tutors and participants alike it is also important to immerse ourselves in the context in which we are working, designing and building. In this spirit we have listed 7 of many reasons that you should join the AA in Haiti this summer and learn about bamboo, design and Haiti!
1. The Palace of Sans-Souci
When France was the worlds super-power, the colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti) produced 1/3 of the Empire’s entire GDP. So wealthy was Haiti that when Napoleon tried to reinstate slavery in the colony in the late 1790’s he saw Louisiana simply as land which could supply Haiti with the materials which could not be grown there thanks to the almost total use of the agricultural land for sugar. As a result when it was obvious the Haitian revolution was going to succeed in taking over all of the French colony Napoleon was forced to sell the Louisiana territory.
A testament to this wealth that Haiti found herself in was seen through the ‘Grands Projets’ of her initial leaders. Built in 1813 after a Kingdom of Haiti had been established as a separate state in the North, it was conceived and built by Henri Christophe, (King Henri I). This seat of power was used by Henri I to facilitate the purchase of salves from the United States and also to correspond with William Wilberforce at a critical moment when the UK Parliament was beginning to listen to the arguments of abolitionists. Just 10 days after King Henri Christophe committed suicide with a silver bullet, it was in these halls in 1820 where his heir and son Jacques-Victor Henry was bayoneted to death. This began the process of reunification of the two states to form the Republic of Haiti. Damaged in the earthquake of 1842 today this ‘Versailles of the Caribbean’ stands as a maze of exposed rooms and a monument to the power that this corner of the world once projected in both economic might and also philosophic discourse in ending slavery in the European empires.
The Palace of Sans Souci, in the 1820’s, (Image credit: www.ancient-origins.net) and today. (Image credit: cdn.lightgalleries.net)
2. The ‘Tap Tap’
As designers, architects and artists we are all used to wanting to change the world around us. However take that one step further. Western cities are cursed with private monopolies plastering their names all over the iconic vehicles which comprise the street-scape. In Haiti your journey will always be in a vehicle which is the extension of a person’s personality, whether the driver or the vehicle owner. The colours are unique, the messages are unique and the vibrancy is there for all to see.
A Tap-Tap in downtown Port au Prince. (Image credit: www.andymorganwrites.com)
3. The real Island of Tortuga
The just off the Northern coast of Haiti is the Île de la Tortue, in Creole Latòti, and in English the mythical home of many pirates, the Island of Tortuga (Turtle Island). First landed by Christopher Columbus, who in the morning mist of December 6th 1492 remarked on an island lying in the Windward Passage as resembling the shell of a turtle, and so the name Tortuga came to be. Settled by the Spanish, French, and English the central location on the shipping route between Cuba and Hispaniola made it a great base to attack shipping whilst its isolation off the Northern coast of what was then the French colony, Saint Domingue meant it was relatively protected from the European powers. In 1670 the Welsh privateer named Henry Morgan started to promote himself and invited the pirates on the island of Tortuga to set sail under him. The era of piracy ended when foreign governments started hiring pirates and forced them to fly the flags of their paymasters. However today that turtle shell of stories and myths lives on of the Northern coast.
The Île de la Tortue on the horizon (photo credit: www.iledelatortue.com) and a drawing of Tortuga island from the 17th century.
4. The Beaches
Haiti has been unspoiled by the tourism that has affected many other parts of the Caribbean. White sands surround this Nation. From Île-à-Vache in the south (Cow Island) to the cruise company enclave of Labadee in the North, you will never be far away from white sands covered by clear water.
Ile a Vache (Photo credit: haitianbusiness.com/) and Cornier Plage in the North of Haiti
It’s the Caribbean, so we have to start with Rhum! Well, rhum, lime and sugar cane to be exact. Simple ingredients to create the perfect companion to a Haitian sunset. Haiti is a nation in which almost anything can grow. From the mango plantations in the Artibonite to the wild mint which one can find growing out of the stonework in the many Independence-era forts. The cocktails that are created from this palette are extensive but nothing hits the spot more than simplicity and the mixing of Barbancourt, lime juice and sugar cane.
The Ti’Punch. (Image credit: www.shakeitdrinkit.com)
6. Roots Music at the Oloffson
On the final night of the summer course we will sit down, eat, drink, but definitely not relax. Thursday night is a chance to stand one on one with RAM, the resident Roots band fronted by the Hotel’s owner and provide an energetic evening of incessant beats. All to be washed down with anything from Barbancourt Punches, to Prestiges. The music, like the hotel and the decorations behind the band are all infused with tradition and in giving yourself to the music is also giving yourself to many other aspects of Haitian culture and stories. Spinning around on the dance floor you will catch site of locals, tourists, diplomats, UN staff, and Haitian politicians alike. An incredible melting pot of people, backgrounds all there to enjoy the music.
The Oloffson hotel also played a staring role as the Hotel Trianon in Graham Greenes satiracal classic ‘The Comedians’. A book so controversial for the then Dictator ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier claimed Greene to be an agent of MI6, (the British Intelligence Service) and as a result the British Ambassadorial presence was only re-instated in 2012.
Past years at the Oloffson hotel, dancing to Vodoo Roots Music.
7. The Food
Haitian cuisine is a unique mixture of French, African, Spanish and indigenous cooking methods, ingredients and dishes. Truly unique in this part of the world the historic influences are clearly seen, from the freshly baked bread in the morning to fish dishes and grilled cabri. Nothing hits the spot after a day of work than sitting down with a prestige beer and having laid out in-front of you grilled pork, crushed plantain, rice, and a large serving to pikliz, also known as Griot de Porc (photo below).
Griot de Porc (Image credit: www.manmieettatie.com)