A History of Names- Thesis Statement

Jacmel’s abandoned hotel, Manoir Alexandra, sited on the South side of Jacmel’s Town Square:

It is a warm afternoon, balmy with an occasional breeze from the coast. The sun is setting behind a tuft of palm trees. The trees’ long shadows cast dark silhouettes on the old Town Hall, whose foundations are outlined with a flat strip of brass. A few families are quietly contem¬plating the vacant lot and a young boy lays flowers on the now sacred ground.

The cruise-ship has anchored at the port and vacationers are making their way up to the town square. Submerged in the new humid atmosphere, they walk through narrow stepped corridors and under iron-laced balconies. Children precede them and run up the stairs, proudly shaking the colorful cha-cha’s purchased at the harbor’s art galleries.

The town square has been transformed into an open-air auditorium space. The clock of the Cathedral St Phillipe chimes the new hour and the overhead garlands of light are dimmed. Visitors and locals proceed into their seats. We all face south towards Alexandra, but she can barely be seen. The only light emanates from the colorful fanals on the ground.

Suddenly we hear sounds of drumming. Large screens light up to our left and right, and images of energetic folkloric dancers and colorful carnival paper-mâché masks catch our attention. The crowd, unanimously enthralled by the rich images, applauds and whistles when the drum sounds travel from the speakers to the ground, in front of Alexandra. Live drummers end the piece with strong, deep and bold rhythmic sounds. The fast images are slowly replaced by calmer scenes. Young kids splash into the deep pools of the Bassin Bleu waterfalls, fishing nets thrown into the sea glitter under the lazy sun, and silence is reestablished as a cheerful coconut vendor convinces his cameraman to put down his lens and to come enjoy a drink of coconut water.

Alexandra takes our attention again, her turquoise window frames popping out from the darkness. On her left, the mayor of Jacmel climbs to a podium. Behind him, images of the daily lives of Jacmelians fade in and out unto the white façade of Alexandra. Her long cracks are still noticeable, but an unprecedented story of resilience and restoration is about to unfold.

´The atmosphere, shapes and imagination that make up Jacmel have been created by real men and women. Its unique and inimitable fabric is a patchwork of walls, streets, open spaces, memories, meetings, sensations and creations, voices and images stitched together day by day for posterity. This is not tangible heritage but a history of names’.

Bernard Hadjadj and Alain Sancerni in “Jacmel: A Centre for the Development of Culture and Tourism”

How can Jacmel’s Civic Center, damaged in Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, be transformed into a prototype for historic preservation? Can this small coastal town, the “Cultural Hub of Haiti” and international tourist destination, set a universal example as a progressive community in a developing country?

Collaboration, Spirit of Teamwork and Community

Central to Jacmel’s burgeoning recovery has been a sense of pride long associated with the city. Jacmelians, as residents call themselves, view themselves independent of Haiti. And many took it upon themselves to clean up the rubble from the streets and their property, and not wait for foreign aid workers to do so.

“Jacmelians, they put their heads together,” said Archille Laguerre, the local leader of Camp Mayard. “Why? They have a spirit of collaboration, a spirit of teamwork and community.”

Huffington Post: Jacmel, Haitian Tourist Town, Rebounding Post-Quake

2010-09-28-leNouvellisteDesagriculteursvenusdediffrentescommunesdeJacmel.jpgFarmers from different communes of the South-East, meeting in Jacmel. Photo: Le Nouvelliste

Manoir Alexandra

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“What would Jacmel be without the Manoir Alexandra, the mythical backdrop of René Depestre’s novel Hadriana in All My Dreams? What would Jacmel be without the warm, sleepy afternoons in teh Rue du Commerce? What would the city be without the permanent conversation between the murmurs from teh St James and St Philip Church and the incessant hubbub of hte Iron Market? What would this rebellious city, with its tumultuous past, be without its old prison, its City Hall, its Boucard, Dougé or Cadet houses, its Masonic Lodge, its wooden houses in Bel-Air, its Marina, its Haitian Pharmacy, etc.? […] Jacmel also still has the vestiges of the colonial defence system, including the ruis of the great fort that defended the entry to the harbour along with the ramparts, the ‘Petite Batterie’ and the Beliot Fort. (Bulletin de l’ISPAN)

City Government, Historic Preservation, Tourism: Jacmel

The city of Jacmel, located in the South-East department of Haïti, has consistently attracted tourists from around the world with its vibrant carnival season attended by thousands every year, its welcoming people who believe in a “good morning with a cup of coffee” or a warm good morning, and for its historic district rich with colonial houses from the 19th century. Jacmel’s traditional welcoming qualities and cultural wealth proves that it is more than just a tourist attraction; it is a city whose citizens take pride in their traditions, local institutions and have modern conceptions of social responsibility.
When the earthquake of January 2010 struck the country, students from the newly formed film school “Ciné Institute”, actively reported the damage caused in Jacmel. Since the epicenter was in Port-au-Prince, miles away from Jacmel, it was not immediately clear the Southern city had been affected by the earthquake. The Ciné Institute video-reports were crucial in bringing aid to the city. Media and technology play an important role in cities. Nowadays, telecommunication, interactive websites and data collection technologies seem to be imperative to the development of cities. Jacmel currently benefits from many websites promoting its uniqueness as the “cultural hub” of Haiti.

Even though there are these fantastic media outlets, the major earthquake, plus lack of preservation and restoration have led to the gradual disappearance of not only public monuments and buildings, but their history. If one wishes to learn more about the city government of Jacmel, the backbone of all projects in the city, it is difficult to find specific information. The city hall of Jacmel was located on the West end of the Central Plaza of Jacmel (or “Place d’Armes”, recently named “Place Toussaint Louverture”) and had to be demolished because of severe damage after the earthquake.

 

For my architectural thesis, I would like to explore how best to link modern citizenry to the government, through the preservation of the Hotel Manoir Alexandra. The goal is to transform the 18th centruy masonry residential building into Jacmel’s new city hall, a transparent and accessible model of government.