The second Architectural Association Visiting School to Haiti is fast approaching, so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the past year and also look ahead.
The first year of the School proved to be hugely exciting and productive, while sometimes being logistically challenging – luckily I only found myself in the back of a pizza delivery van being driven down a mountain once.
The Haiti Visiting School's course aims to explore the potential for a new light-weight building typology based on an economically sustainable model for bamboo farming. The School brought together local students from Port-au-Prince’s Quisqueya University with local architects, Dominican students from UNIBE (Santo Domingo) and international students from France and the UK. The largely software based course took mixed groups of three through an intensive programme of mapping a site and designing a proposal driven by the raw data collected on site. Set amongst the beauty of Wynne Foundation’s mountain-top reserve in Kenskoff, the students were pushed to explore methods that, though openly available to them, are very rarely used. The designs were then analytically tested using open-source environmental testing software and modified to be more hurricane and earthquake resistant. This was supplemented with an evening lecture series, a tour of colonial style gingerbread houses and an evening watching RAM perform at the Oloffson Hotel. The school culminated on the 4th anniversary of the quake with a critique attended by the guardians of the Wynne Foundation, a J/P HRO representative and a local bamboo expert. The final presentations exhibited brilliantly creative proposals which quashed any suggestion that bamboo is a poor-man’s material – though this is still potentially the largest battle faced by the School. Moreover the day showcased how well the students of varied backgrounds had worked together – despite preconceptions they may have grown up with across the borders of Hispaniola and further afield.
Although the school successfully disseminated information to some of the local students and architects who will be responsible for the country’s future, there were some things we hoped to improve on: the site was remote and didn’t represent the largely urban problems faced. The lack of physical work with bamboo also greatly limits the scope of the school – something that is currently exacerbated by the lack of existing infrastructure and not being able to get our hands on enough bamboo to do anything useful.
This year we hope to tackle some of these issues head on; the school is based in Port-au-Prince proper – and the urban site is in the vicinity of Quisqueya University. We are joined by ARUP and Engage for Development’s Sebastian Kaminski who will be both lecturing about and advising on the use of bamboo. We will also be visiting one of the local bamboo projects in Croix-de-Bouquets, just outside the city. While building substantial structures with local students and alumni is still our goal, current political unrest and slow (but steady) progress in infrastructural development means this is still a goal for the future.
On return from the last school, I was tasked with spreading the word about the school and our work in general to those who were interested and had helped it become a reality. The most enjoyable of these occasions were at John McAslan+Partners office and the UK Shelter Forum Pecha Kucha.
The link for the short presentation at the Pecha Kucha can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZaEPVX4_AQ
You can visit the official website and apply at the following location: http://haiti.aaschool.ac.uk/