Measuring the Manoir Alexandra with students from Jacmel’s Preservation School “École Atelier de Jacmel” Part II

Gilot Casimir, Carnes Belle-Vil and Yves Valescot, students from the very first graduating class of the École Atelier de Jacmel (Jacmel’s Preservation School) helped me measure the Manoir Alexandra. The picture below taken in front of the mahogany stairs on the first floor of the Manoir. 

Photo Credit: Andreas Nicholas 

Measuring the Manoir Alexandra with students from Jacmel’s Preservation School “École Atelier de Jacmel”

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During my Spring Break (March 2012), I traveled to Jacmel with my good friend Andreas Nicholas, a film student at RISD. The main purpose of our trip was to take the measurements of the Manoir Alexandra with students from Jacmel’s Preservation School and to collect stories from locals of various generations, through video interviews.

I measured the house for four days with three students from the first graduating class of the Ëcole Atelier de Jacmel (Jacmel’s Preservation School), an institution founded by the Haitian Historical Society (ISPAN) and the AECID (Spain).

Inspiration to a Narrative

For my class on Museum Interpretation, we were assigned some readings in Neil MacGregor’s “History of the World in 100 objects”. We had to read the story of “Object 59”, which covered the acquisition of a Buddha Stone Head  from the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia by the British Museum. The Borobudur Temple is a UNESCO Heritage Site visited by many tourists. 

Object 59: Borobudur Buddha Head- Stone head of the Buddha, from Java, Indonesia AD 780-840)


We are tracing the great arcs of trade that linked Asia, Europe and AFrica aroudn a thousand years ago,. Throuagh this stone head of the Buddha we can plot an extensive network of connections across the China Sea and the Indian Ocean by which goods and ideas, languages and religions, were exchanged among the peoples of souht-east Asia. It comes from Borobudur, on the Indonesian island of Java,just a fe degrees south g of the equator. Borodbudur is one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in teh worlld and one of the great cultural achievements of humanity- a huge, square, terraced pyramid, representing the Buddhist view of the cosmos in stone, decorated with well over a thousand relief carvings and peopled with hundreds of statues of the Buddha. As pilgrims climb it, they are treading a physical path that mirrors a spiritual journey, symbolicaaly transporting the walker from this world to a higher plane of being. Here, on the rich and strategically important island of Java, at the monument of Borobudur, is the supreme example of how the network of maritime trade allowed Buddhism to spread beyond the boundaries of its birth and become a world religion.


As you climb through the different levels, you take a material road into a spiritual enlightenment.

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Pictures from UNESCO

[Precedent Study] Habitation Leclerc

Alleluia pour une femme-jardin / Hallelujah for a garden-woman

Rene Depestre

Located in Martissant, a densely populated area in the West Department of Haiti, the Habitation Leclerc is an old abandoned propriety with an expansive garden. It was built during the 19th century for Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister Pauline Bonaparte and husband General Victoire Emmanuel-Leclerc, French governor of Haiti at the time. In 1944, it was bought by the renowned late American dancer Katherine Dunham, who influenced the Alvin Ailey dance school by using Haitian Folklore dance techniques in her career. Dunham transformed Habitation Leclerc into a resort, which attracted many famous people such as Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy and Mick Jagger. When the political situation worsened in Haiti, the propriety’s garden was shut down in 1982. Ever since, it has been difficult to maintain and the beautiful residence has fallen into ruins. The cultural organization called FOKAL bought Habitation Leclerc and is now transforming it into a botanical garden. The first steps of re-appropriating this property consisted in engaging with the people of Martissant and providing a community space to not only understand the needs of the area, but also to mediate conflicts that had risen among different groups.

FOKAL has successfully inaugurated the first earthquake memorial park at l’Habitation Leclerc, just this January 12, 2012.

While working with the gardens of Le Manoir Alexandra, I am interested in issues of accessibility. Who gets to use this garden? How welcoming is it? Le Manoir, just like the Habitation Leclerc, once belonged to the aristocracy of Haiti. However its location in the city of Jacmel and its future use as a cultural center calls for social inclusion.

A study of L’Habitation Leclerc will certainly provide some answers to my questions.

It is possibly the most remarkable/sensitive urban project currently being developed in Haiti. Here is a link to an insightful film documentary covering the project.:  Martissant, the Dream of a Living 

Website on the project: Parc de Martissant 

Below, pictures from “Geraldine” on PICASA 

Donation of $50,000 from Azerbaijan to Jacmel

From Haiti-Libre:

Upon the initiative of First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, of the UNESCO Good-Will Ambassador Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan will assign $50,000 to the efforts to restore cultural facilities of the city of Jacmel.

The project is to start this December and last six months.

Read More:$50-000-from-azerbaijan-to-jacmel.html

Preservation is overtaking us

In the introduction of his article “Preservation is Overtaking us“, Rem Koolhaas makes a point that covers a shared feeling on the architect’s approach to projects.

We were lucky in 2002 to receive a commission from the Beijing government that enabled us to try to investigate and define for China a specific form of preservation. This is one of those unique moments in which we come closer, and maybe I should say in this case that I come closer, to one of my most intimate utopian dreams, which is to find an architecture that does nothing. I’ve always been appalled that abstinence is the one part of the architectural repertoire that is never considered. Perhaps in architecture, a profession that fundamentally is supposed to change things it encounters (usually before reflection), there ought to be an equally important arm of it which is concerned with not doing anything.