Credits for photograph above: Claude André Nadon
With a unique opportunity to hear an outsider’s perspective on the interventions and their impact 2 and a half years after being completed, I have invited a talented young Haitian architect- Nathalie Jolivert- to write her perspectives on the first housing pilots developed for the 16/6 Project (the first and largest housing reconstruction and urban rehabilitation project in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010).
I will follow-up with a second post reflecting a bit of the history and design intent of the pilots. This will allow us to better understand the consistencies and evolutions, successes to learn from as well as alternatives to consider.
Before giving the stage to Nathalie, I did want to point out that I have already implicitly posted information on Haiti and this particular housing and urban rehabilitation program in which UNOPS- the Operational branch of the UN- assisted the the country’s new Housing Unit (the UCLBP) in the development and implementation of the program, also aiding in the consolidation of new housing policies and standards for the country. For more information on the latter, click HERE.
Guest post by Nathalie Jolivert
The Housing projects of Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre
The commune of Pétion-Ville is the most economically affluent in Haiti, with a concentration of pricey apartments, private residences, hotels and restaurants. However, in the immediate outskirts of Pétion-Ville’s urban-center, the economic dynamic changes drastically. Three dense neighborhoods that prove the steep contrast between the urban center of Pétion-Ville and its surroundings are Bois Jalousie, Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre. Those three hilly neighborhoods have also been subject of news-worthy urban interventions after the destructive earthquake of 2010. Bois-Jalousie has undergone an urban-art project that consisted in painting all the home façades to pay homage to Prefète Duffaut, a Haitian artist known for his paintings of colorful small houses perched on steep hills. Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre were highly affected during the earthquake and became a focus of reconstruction with new housing methodologies. I was fortunate to visit those two neighborhoods recently with the United Nations Office for Project Services UNOPS team in charge of the project and learn about the successes and challenges of their housing initiatives.
Image 1: Bois Jalousie and Préfète Duffaut
For the most part, the houses of Morne Hercule can only be navigated by foot, with only some corridors accessible by motorcycles. During our visit, we parked on a quiet street where a small agglomeration of merchants and taxi-motos marked the entrance of the neighborhood.
The design interventions I found most successful in the reconstruction of Morne Hercule’s neighborhood included:
1- The pedestrian neighborhood: In this densely populated area, pedestrian streets seem key for the reduction of noise pollution.
Image 2: Pedestrian Neighborhood
2- The water-management and draining system: the well-studied draining system protects the neighborhoods from erosions and potential floods during tropical storms.
Image 3: Water Management
3- The service and social nooks between the buildings: Navigating Morne Hercule felt like walking through a maze. Larger open-air spaces became points of references and opportunities for the community to interact. They were designed as semi-private spaces for social and economic activities, allowing for strong local appropriation.
4- The idea of co-propriety: Morne Hercule inhabitants have very modest means, some lived in extreme conditions before the earthquake. New co-propriety rules have helped create a level of equality amongst the owners. These rules consisted in having some owners give up land to accommodate poorer families.
5- The high ceilings and balconies: The buildings in Morne Hercule are mostly made out of tight twenty-five square meter floors. High ceilings allowed for a proper evacuation of hot air. Balconies also provided more opportunities to enjoy tropical breezes.
6- The colorful wall painting and tile murals: The use of bright paint colors and the design of murals with colorful tiles gave Morne Hercule a strong visual identity. With this intervention, the inhabitants of this region can manifest a sense of pride and dignity.
Image 4: Murals
The houses of Morne Lazarre can be easily seen from the arterial road of Bourdon, which connects the commune of Turgeau to Pétion-Ville. I learned that it was a strategic move to have the buildings of Morne Lazarre face Bourdon, for higher visibility.
The modular homes of Morne Lazarre are the same models used for Morne Hercule. The additional design interventions that caught my attention were:
1- The use of Guadua bamboo: While Morne Hercule also had finishes made of guadua bamboo, they take a bigger role in Morne Lazarre because of their visibility. Guadua is the only bamboo species that is specified for construction. There is a push for this crop to grow locally as it is currently being imported from Colombia. Morne Lazarre becomes a good platform to promote this building material in Haiti. Local philostachis bamboo species was also used for some of the balconies and windows.
Image 5: Use of Guadua Bamboo in Morne Lazarre
2- Planters and park spaces: Morne Lazarre is less densely populated than Morne Hercule. There was more space for planters and small parks on the site. Owners also seemed keen to care for and protect the new trees.
Design challenges and potentials:
During my visit to Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre, I learned about design challenges the UNOPS team faced while working on those housing projects. I also realized that the owners’ appropriation of the new spaces gave great indications of how things could be done better.
1-The bathrooms: In the layout of Morne Hercule’s houses, the bathrooms opened up to the kitchen space. Some owners took the initiative to change the orientation of those doors by eliminating the openings to instead face the living room. The UNOPS team caught this mistake and designed the bathrooms of Morne Lazarre to reflect that change.
2-Informal commercial spaces: In Morne Hercule, some of the social nooks became spaces where owners installed their goods to sell. This showed a need for commercial spaces within the neighborhood. Perhaps the buildings facing the communal spaces could provide space for small shops.
3–Building up: To design in dense urban areas, it is recommended to build up rather than spread out. However, building up in hilly neighborhoods like Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre reinforces a vertical massing in which a two story building feels like a four story building due to the sharp difference of altitude between two buildings. Perhaps new housing designs on the hillsides of Haiti could take inspiration from other similarly perched neighborhoods like Santorini in Greece. In Santorini, and other hilly Greek villages, the buildings are terraced. One building’s roof becomes the terrace of its neighboring building. This type of massing would create a more organic transformation to the dense hillsides of Port-au-Prince. It would also allow for more ecological design interventions such as roof gardens.
4- Another proof for the need of more sources of income: In Morne Lazarre, homeowners displaced the internal metal spiraling staircases and installed them outside. This move provided an independent entrance to the top floor and also allowed the owners to rent out space, as another source of income. While this move might go against the idea of standard living spaces for people, it reflects the pressing need for the homeowners of Morne Lazarre to provide for themselves. This design intervention shows how important it could be to invest in small ‘formal’ commercial spaces within those dense neighborhoods.
Image 6: Interior and Exterior spiral staircases in Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre
5-More need of greening: The owners in Morne Hercule seemed to really like their plants. There was not much space allocated to plant in the master-plan of Morne Hercule. However, the corridors were lined with pots in which the owners nurtured their favorite small plants. This eco-friendly attitude could be encouraged by incorporating into other infrastructural aspects of occupying the hillside of this neighborhood. Perhaps in new similar developments plants that are known to help with erosion could become a mandatory design element. Such approach could also highlight the need for environmental protection in Haiti.
Image 7: Plants in Morne Hercule
6- The need for more windows: The small balconies of Morne Lazarre and Morne Hercule provide really great views unto other parts of Pétion-Ville. Unfortunately, the new houses were not designed with many windows to enjoy those views. I learned that the team faced some challenges in designing earthquake proof structures, which usually require minimal amounts of openings. However, there are existing earthquake-proof housing models that allow for more windows and ventilation. In Haiti, modest iterations of the colorful “gingerbread” houses have withstood the earthquake of 2010. Those houses are well designed for the tropical climate of Haiti. They also make use of charming Caribbean aesthetics that people are always attracted to live in.
Designing small spaces in Haiti means…
Designing small spaces in Haiti automatically means designing for a socio-economic class in which the end-users are not the client. The end-users have limited say in the appeal of the place designed for them. The expression “beggars cannot be choosers” often applies in the realm of housing contracts in Haiti. During my architectural tour of the houses on Morne Lazarre and Morne Hercule, it was pleasant to see that the UNOPS team, along with UCLBP was more inclined to provide appealing design solutions than many other housing projects in the country. With this significant step towards design, building small spaces for the less-privileged could soon become a precedent for small pricey apartments in densely populated, developed cities. There could be an exciting exchange of ideas in which an expensive-looking compact furniture piece in a developed city, might be inspired by a piece of design in a Haitian housing project. Likewise, a purely decorative expensive wall-piece promoted in a small pricey apartment could inspire a more affordable model on the interior walls of a Haitian housing project. This type of intervention allows more concrete proof of a willingness to understand the needs and aspirations of the less-privileged end-users. Haiti’s population has a strong affinity for the arts and crafts, this culture can be fostered when designing for end-users, even when they are not the ones to produce the crafts. These end-users can understand what the art of living means, they just have not had the means to provide it for themselves.
Nathalie Jolivert is an architect and artist interested in design solutions that value tradition, material history, culture and community involvement. Growing up in Haiti, a developing country with a rich yet complex culture, Nathalie realizes the importance to innovate and provide efficient answers to problems. Her academic years at the Rhode Island School of Design have equipped her with the skills to embrace challenges as sources of opportunities. Nathalie’s design process is often inspired by local stories which she incorporates throughout her architectural and art projects.