Cathedral concepts challenge vision of large-scale architecture in Haiti

Cathedral concepts challenge vision of large-scale architecture in Haiti

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Jan 10, 2013
  • comments

A competition to redesign what is perhaps Haiti's most iconic building has cultivated a rich variety of large-scale climate and culture sensitive concepts from across the world. This week the results were announced and the fate of Notre Dame de l'Assomption in Port-au-Prince seems to be sealed.

The Architecture for Humanity Haiti office joined their upstairs neighbors (and periodic collaborators) YCF Group and Italian architecture firm ACRA CONSULTING to submit their vision last month. Although it did not win, their proposal is just too delicious to be kept to a digital drawer.

Launched by the archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, the competition tapped professional architects around the world to "discover the new Notre Dame."

"The ideal design," quoth the competition site, "must engage the future and celebrate life. Still, it must be mindful of the past and memorialize the thousands who died and were injured in the earthquake of January 12, 2010."


Ruins of the original 1928 Notre Dame de l'Assomption following the 2010 earthquake. The debris has since been cleared, although the walls left standing after the earthquake remain so. Image by Flickr user United Nations Photo

The competition requirements included climate criteria ("High maintenance environment susceptible to dust and wind" and hurricanes and earthquakes are noted - too important to go without saying), soils data (from the original 1885 surveys - wow), and other pragmatic site conditions ("Not likely to be air-conditioned; fans frequently used; Irregular and expensive electric power").

The competition also requires the original cathedral footprint be incorporated, and suggests perhaps incorporating the remaining structure as well.

YCF et. al's proposal embraces the spirit of the cathedral beyond the original physical elements.

(From the design statement) The cathedral is constructed from large trusses clad in recycled metal sheets, perforated by the artists of Croix de Bouquet with the pattern of the old rose window. The pattern permits diffuse light to enter the interior, creating a solemn and contemplative atmosphere inside.

The YCF/AFH/ACRA proposal certainly deserves a nod. At once graceful, forward-reaching and rooted, this cathedral proposal, along with many of the others submitted, can only leave us wondering what other incredible forms Haiti architecture will yield in the future...

A water catchment channel outlines the footprint of the former cathedral, and collected water is used in the Reflection Garden to the north of the cathedral, as well as to aid in passively cooling the interior.

The broader urban plan extends beyond the boundaries of the old cathedral, and encompasses the adjoining plaza. A bridge, on axis with the cathedral, physically links the two urban areas, and provides a peaceful transition between the busy larger square and the tranquility of the cathedral.

Next to the cathedral is a 60-meter tall bell tower containing the belfry and an observation deck that offers spectacular views of Port-au-Prince. The tower also serves as a beacon and icon for the city, becoming a point of orientation.

Design Lead: Andrea Panizzo (YCF)

Project Team:

YCF: Andrea Panizzo, Yves Francois, Burtland Granvil, Elizabeth Lafontant, Taina Mayard.
Architecture for Humanity: Nancy Doran, Peter Arnts, Laura Smits, Sven Kalim, Radim Tkadlec.
ARCA CONSULTING: Vanni Puccioni, Lucia Alunni Grillini, Stefano Prinzivalli.

Full Design Statement

The proposal for the Notre Dame de l’Assomption draws on the life and culture of the Haitian people, while remembering the site’s history and the lives lost on January 12, 2010. The folded origami form is inspired by a Haitian fisherman’s boat, linking the new cathedral to the old cathedral’s former function as a lighthouse.

The cathedral is constructed from large trusses clad in recycled metal sheets, perforated by the artists of Croix de Bouquet with the pattern of the old rose window. The pattern permits diffuse light to enter the interior, creating a solemn and contemplative atmosphere inside.

A water catchment channel outlines the footprint of the former cathedral, and collected water is used in the Reflection Garden to the north of the cathedral, as well as to aid in passively cooling the interior. The double layer ventilated cladding helps to maintain a comfortable interior temperature, while openings along the bottom of the cladding draws in water-cooled air into the building. Next to the cathedral is a 60-meter tall bell tower containing the belfry and an observation deck that offers spectacular views of Port-au-Prince. The tower also serves as a beacon and icon for the city, becoming a point of orientation.

The landscape surrounding the cathedral is divided into several urban spaces – a formalized pattern of benches and trees, more urban in character, extends to the west and south of the cathedral. A grand staircase connects the lower level of the street to the plaza in front of the cathedral, and provides ample outdoor space for sermons.

The broader urban plan extends beyond the boundaries of the old cathedral, and encompasses the adjoining plaza. A bridge, on axis with the cathedral, physically links the two urban areas, and provides a peaceful transition between the busy larger square and the tranquility of the cathedral. This larger plaza consists of vendor kiosks, benches, and trees, and allows the life of the city to shape the space.

While many still live in misery, the House of God shall not shine spotless. Reflecting the struggle for the reconstruction, its lasting architecture alternates with makeshift materials like UNHCR tarps and corrugated metal sheet panels.

The “provisional skin” will be replaced by the “permanent” as camps are cleared; therefore the Cathedral could function during the construction.