Architecture students inspire reconstruction of Haiti

In times of turmoil and tragedy, sometimes the best place to look for a little hope and comfort is through one’s faith. When the massive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, one of the most important buildings that is still severely damaged is the Port-au-Prince Cathedral.

Even after three years, the cathedral is just a shell of its former self. The cathedral is still closed to the public as the only thing left standing is the exterior walls. The roof and fallen bell towers have been completely removed.

Rather than try and salvage the little that is still left from the old cathedral, it has been decided that construction on a completely new one will start soon. To decide on a new design, the University Of Miami’s School of Architecture, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Port-au Prince, and Faith and Form Magazine, held a competition that featured 250 architects from around the world that collaborated to submit 134 plans for the reconstruction.

“The School of Architecture students always benefit from the efforts of faculty to connect our work with communities in our region and abroad,” said UM School of Architecture Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.

The first place winner was headed by Puerto Rican architect Segundo Cardono, while third and fourth places went to local Miami architects Steven Felt and Christopher Glapinski. Plater-Zyberk led a panel of six judges that included architect and former minister of tourism for Haiti, Michael Crosbie.

“The leader of the winning team, a Puerto Rican firm, was very moved by having won, as he indeed worked very hard to produce a design that would incorporate elements of the historic cathedral as well as project a future image for the community. Jurors were impressed by the entry’s knowledge of liturgical design,” Plater-Zyberk said.

Thirty of the designs entered were on display at the School Of Architecture from Jan. 17 to 25.

“We are intending to help the exhibit travel to other venues, including to Port-au-Prince,” she said. The exhibit was curated by part-time faculty member Joachim Perez, who is in charge of all the school’s exhibits for this school year.

One of the main priorities that the architects had in mind as they put their plans together for the new cathedral was making sure it was hurricane- and earthquake-proof. This just raises the expenses of the project. Twelve earthquake classrooms in one community cost the church $800,000, while the removal of the debris from the cathedral totaled to $300,000.

“The competition produced an excellent design for the cathedral. It is contemporary with historical elements, liturgically correct, environmentally responsive, and it presents a symbolic image for a renewing community,” Plater-Zyberk said.

The Port-au-Prince Cathedral is a landmark to the nation of Haiti, and the first steps have successfully been completed toward rebuilding this important structure.