A particular design team at BAR Architects (pronounced ‘B.A.R.’) in San Francisco can only meet once a month on a project that only one person works on at a time. This is due to the fact that the active team member is living and working in Port-au-Prince alongside Architecture for Humanity.
Since the nine-person group of volunteer professionals began this revolving design fellowship in January, they have been paired with a school project in the hills above the Haitian capital. The Haiti Partners Children’s Academy, for the community of Mariaman is considered by the non-profit Haiti Partners to represent a new paradigm in Haitian education.
‘The project is envisioned as a model school that will provide a much needed learning environment for local children, a training facility for teachers from throughout the region, and an example–for all of Hait–of how to operate a truly sustainable school,’ reads the project’s mission statement.
The recently returned team member Douglas Oliver describes a meeting he had with Haiti Partners co-founder John Engle and educational training coordinator Hannah Meadows early on in his trip. At a cafe in Pétionville, Hannah, a teacher of 25 years and teacher trainer in Haiti, described an open classroom scheme enclosed by curtains that could act as apertures for light and air to pass into the space. The concept seemed simple, but making a classroom comfortable is a crucial priority, and BAR’s most recent challenge. Previously, team members Lisa Victor and Chris Haegglund had met with clients and site and developed several site plan schemes to fit the school’s hilltop perch. Douglas then determined which was the best fit, fleshed it out and had begun incorporating building-specific features.
The unit design Douglas showed us at the BAR meeting was distilled from those initial principles of openness. The curtains became large sliding metal doors, bookending a block wall shared by two classrooms. The two-room block design was covered by a lofted roof that extended past the door-walls to protect a exterior circulation space from the elements.
At the meeting the team discussed the scheme and broader issues to designing in Haiti. For instance, despite fears of material scarcity, Douglas and Architecture for Humanity believed it would be easy to find enough metal for these large sliding doors. Haiti has a long and well-known history of metalsmithing, and driving around Port-au-Prince makes this craft and pride evident. Metal arts and crafts are sold on the roadside everywhere, and every private residence seems to have a plate metal gate.
Which brought up the issue of walling the school property–a necessity not only for securing the grounds but marking the limits of the property. BAR entertained several cost-saving construction techniques. Gabions, for instance would be an ideal inexpensive walling solution. However in Haitian culture gabions are strongly associated with water and are not used for more than erosion infrastructure.
Douglas stressed how the designs were strictly conjectural, and that it was up to the next BAR architect, Jonathan Hradecky, flies down to investigate feasibility. Jonathan was prepared to leave in the following couple days–he’s on the ground now, and keeping everyone posted on his work and adventures via the BAR Tumblr Blog.
Haiti Partners is also following progress with the Mariaman community, BAR and Architecture for Humanity on the Haiti Partners blog.
And, of course, broader architectural issues for Haiti are discussed as part of the Students Rebuild Field Notes.
The image above depicts the fully completed school at schematic design in late February
Frontline/The World June 2008