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Turning Haiti Toward a Better Future

Ædifica, and its branch office Ædifica Sud — in collaboration with Haitian architects Bernard Millet and Jean-Jacques Coicou — recently took part in an architecture contest organized by the Groupe de Travail et de Reflexion pour la Reconstruction du Palais National de l’État Haïtien. The goal of the contest was to choose the firm that would undertake the complete reconstruction of Haiti’s National Palace, damaged in that country’s 2010 earthquake.

Ædifica and its team of collaborators presented an audacious concept motivated by a profound belief that architecture can be a catalyst for social change. The Ædifica approach positioned the new palace to respect and evoke the past while providing Haiti a powerful, shining beacon toward the future. How? By fusing a classic approach to urban composition with a contemporary architectural signature distinguished by lightness and transparency.

Ædifica and its partners believed that the new Palace could become a living conversation with the Haitian people, giving form to Haiti’s past, present and future — and providing a form of spatiotemporal catharsis and healing transformation.

- The past is evoked by the northern entrance of the site, which invites visitors to descend through nine floors that evoke the lost Palace. It includes a simple and powerful gesture: “the wall of infinite tears” commemorating the 2010 earthquake and its countless victims.

- The present is symbolized by the ground floor which immortalizes the vanished Palace in reflecting pool. It also makes the beginning of a redemptive journey via the steps to the threshold of the Palace.

- The future is celebrated with elevation and incarnated by a radiant portal toward the future. The apogee of the journey is found in a basement occupied by the new Palace itself, and by heavenly gardens.

Ædifica proposed that Haiti’s reconstructed National Palace occupy the center of a new collection of urban structures – a vision of a renewed Haiti rising from the waters of Port-Au-Prince, and framing the historical perspective of rue Champ-de-Mars.

We were guided in our conception of this project by three basic principles:

- To preserve memory and embrace the history of the old Place in order to encourage collective healing

- To renew Port-au-Prince and spark new life in the city by revitalizing the historical axis of Champ-de-Mars

- To create a symbol of hope and optimism worthy of the country’s aspirations, in order to stimulate a powerful new collective elan.

Fully conscious that the old Palace was destroyed by an earthquake. Ædifica suggested simple and efficient techniques requiring little maintenance to maintain the new Palace’s seismic resilience. These techniques, impacting both the structure and economic costs of the proposed Palace, include:

- Reducing the weight of the structure itself through the use of light materials

- Configuring a simple, regular and uniform structural strategy aiming to eliminate irregularities vulnerable to seismic wrenching.

- Conceiving an elongated main building composed of four modules separated by seismic joints, to reduce the risk of rotational forces caused by geological variations.

- Creating proportions optimal for length, width and height, to favour stability.

We also included the following elements to increase sustainability and minimize carbon footprint:

- White roofs to reduce heat islands

- Natural ventilation supported by Canadian wells.

- The use of geothermal and solar energy

- Vegetal roofs for optimal insulation and protection against ultraviolet rays.

- The creation of cool spots and reduction of evaporation through the use of indigenous vegetal coverings

- The creation of blue zones;

- Recuperation of rain water;

- Optimization of natural lighting and control of solar overheating through the use of a moveable metallic net, a cantilevered roof, and columns serving as sun shields.

We were one of four finalists selected from fifteen initial propositions. While our proposition wasn’t selected by the jury, we believe that it is a good representation of our approach and the values of our firm. It is a powerful example of our audacious approach to design, the respect we have for history and collective identity, and our passion for innovation and sustainability. The proposal was well-received by the public at large, and particularly by the resilient youth of Haiti, who are working to create a more promising future while mourning the darkness of the past.

« With every project we undertake, our knowledge grows, and our experience with trans-disciplinary work increases,” adds Lenin Cruz, Ædifica’s Director of International Development. “This project sharpened our skill at working with a culturally diverse, virtual team spread across various locations.”

Credit : Ædifica – ÆdificaSud in collaboration with JB Millet et JJ Coicou

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