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École La Dignité

Thu, 2011-11-10 04:54

On Monday, November 7, a healthy representation of Architecture for Humanity's Haiti office drove down to the Caribbean village of Cayes Jacmel to witness the first day of class in the new rooms they've built for École La Dignité.

The team was received by school headmistress Madame Vivianne Vieux, was treated to an opening ceremony of songs and dance by the community and school children, and taken for a tour of the new facilities–complete with classroom benches, a green/white paint job (a departure from the blue/white schemes we keep seeing around the country), and hand-woven bamboo door/window/clerestory screens.

The approach to the Dignité extension from the rest of the main building
The approach to the Dignité extension from the rest of the main building

Design Associate (and vey capable photographer) Gerard Reilly reflects on the day's events:

"Mme Vieux set up the ceremony and invited her friends and family, local officials, parents of kids and all the kids were present. There was an opening sketch by some of the kids, as well as a performance by a singer/guitar player duo. Two girls then performed a local dance in traditional Haitian dress prepared by Mme Vieux's sister.

"A couple speeches followed by some of the parents and local officials. Stanley [Joseph - construction outreach professional for Architecture for Humanity] also delivered some words. Mme Vieux then closed by presenting Architecture for Humanity with a painting by one of her students and some local mangoes and mandarins in a handmade basket. She presented Stanley and the stone mason each with a bottle of five-star Barbancourt rum. As for the classrooms, one was prepared as a fully functioning room with desks and furniture, a globe and a blackboard. The other was prepared with drinks and food for the ceremony.

"Once the ribbon was cut everyone explored the building and talked about it. Mme Vieux explained how all her friends now wanted a house like the school building - with local stone and bamboo. Mme Vieux couldn't be more happy with the outcome of the school."

Traditional Haitian dance accompanies the opening of Architecture for Humanity's Ecole La Dignité in Cayes Jacmel
Triangular outdoor cooridor incorporates benches on two sides to become a meeting zone
Interior of Dignité's new rock wall
A look at the classrooms
Top: Triangular outdoor corridor incorporates benches on two sides to become a meeting zone; Middle: interior view showing Dignité's stone wall; Bottom: interior view showing classroom benches and overhead daylighting/ventilation

The Dignité extension is a direct response to a tricky combination of problems of rebuilding in Haiti.

For instance, a school in Haiti must deal with parallel issues of allowing spaces to be cool while secure. Abundant openings in walls and beneath roofs would encourage air flow through spaces and generate very low-tech comfort through ventilation, while also keeping the space secure against potential unwanted visitors–burglars, bugs and rodents. The bamboo screens employed throughout the extension are an ideal response–the thin reeds woven through metal bars allow the passage of air and light, and little else.

While hardware such as metal gusset plates for roof trusses are still greatly unavailable throughout Haiti, the construction crew made their own out of scraps of plywood and metal–they may not be what we're accustomed to holding roof trusses together but they are "structurally approved" to keep the school building safe in any future natural disaster.

Ecole La Dignite outdoor meeting area
End of the second outdoor meeting area

Responding to a very real need for students to have classroom variety and spatial delight, the Dignité extension creatively generates "loosely-programmed" space around the classrooms–the triangular corridor doubles as a meeting area and a bench along the building's base frames a (soon-to-be) grassy forum. The extension works around existing foliage so natural shade can be brought to these outdoor spaces. Stones from a nearby river bed have been worked into a prominent architectural feature and brings the architecture into a natural confluence with its surroundings.

Job very well done by everyone on our Haiti team in designing and managing the construction of the Dignité extension–may this be the direction taken by every Students Rebuild school (and every project otherwise) in Haiti!