In the wake of Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake, media attention focused the world’s eyes on the devastation in the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, a catastrophe unfolded on Haiti’s southern coast in Jacmel, a city where 70 percent of the homes were damaged or destroyed.
Gensler learned of Jacmel’s plight from Operation USA, an international relief agency heavily involved in Haitian relief efforts. With project funding from Honeywell, Operation USA enlisted a Gensler Los Angeles team to provide design services for the reconstruction of the Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez. The Jacmel school re-opened October 18, 2011, to a host of smiling children eager to revive school-day routines.
Jacmel’s school serves more than 400 students in grades K-7 who otherwise cannot afford primary education. The rebuilt school not only provides children a safe place to learn during the country’s reconstruction, it enables local engineers to learn how to build structures capable of withstanding future earthquakes and hurricanes.
Operation USA completed the school working in close collaboration with then Mayor (now Senator) Edwin Zenny, a nationally renowned activist and anti-corruption leader committed to Jacmel’s future. This partnership with the mayor’s office ensured the project proceeded smoothly and conformed to community’s needs.
Given the need for an immediate response following the quake, five Gensler team members traveled to Jacmel and spent four days studying the region and its design and building conditions. Team members quickly established that every effort from locating construction supplies to designing a working plumbing system posed significant challenges.
Gensler donated all design services for the school project and secured the donation of structural drawings from U.S.-based engineering firm Miyamoto International.
Gensler’s design team proposed single-story buildings that could be constructed simply by local builders. To promote local redevelopment, all supplies, from construction materials to furniture, came from within the country.
The team strove to ensure that the design would be both cost-effective and easily replicated by other Haitian engineers and construction workers. This approach allows the school structures to demonstrate essential design and engineering principles that can be applied in constructing subsequent buildings across the region and country.
The extensive damage to roads and public buildings has segregated many communities, so the school design promotes a larger sense of community, giving kids a place they feel comfortable calling their own. The buildings are laid out around a series of outdoor spaces and courtyards that function as social connectors between the classrooms of varying grade levels.
The school’s design also takes advantage of the warm tropical climate by orienting classroom buildings in a north-south direction to capture prevailing westerly winds. This natural ventilation system cuts cooling costs, while literally giving students breaths of fresh air throughout their school day.
Each aspect of the school design is intended to contribute to a vibrant, campus-like environment of shared, multi-generational educational experience and community involvement.
As Gensler team member Wendi Gilbert says, “The Haitians have a saying, ‘piti piti na rive’ that means ‘little by little, we will arrive.’” It’s an apt sentiment for Jacmel, since the school prepares children for their future one class at a time. Re-opening the Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez is a small step in the city’s rebuilding process. Having a secure place for students to cultivate their academic and social development helps residents see brighter days ahead.
Anne Alexander, Wendi Gilbert, Audrey Handelman, Charrisse Johnston, James Kelly, Nathan Kim, Nila Leiserowitz, Valentin Lieu, Brianna Seabron, Nupur Sinha, Colette Smith, Konstanze Valdez, Evangelique Zhao
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