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).

La Joconde & Golden Ratio

A la fin de 1946, à mon arrivée à Paris, je me précipitai, haletant, au musée du Louvre, vers la célèbre toile de Leonardo, comme au premier rendez-vous pris loin de Jacmel avec Nana Siloé. J’en fus profondément décú. La Joconde était bien le chef-d’oeuvre d’un peintre génial, mais, comparée à la jeune fille de mon souvenir, elle semblait plutôt ricaner, sans aucun feu intérieur.

Hadriana dans Tous mes Rêves | René Dépestre

Haitian Chancellor Laurent Lamothe at the Louvre Museum during an official visit of the exhibition of Le Serment des Ancêtres:, property of the Musée National d’Haiti.

Spiral stairs at the Louvre museum in Paris, France: 

Spiral stairs at l’Habitation Leclerc in Port-au-Prince, Haïti: 

Anghelen drawing of iron-laced spiral staircases in Jacmel:

Old Pergola in Jacmel’s Place d’Armes

Bringing the pergola back to Place d’Armes as the entry-way to an underground museum

[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 

Yaquimo shadows

Inspiration to a Performance Space

The picture above was taken at Yaquimo Beach (down Grande Rue), during a Salsa dance session.  The venue is a two-story tall  “Choukoun”, traditional circular Haitian gathering space with a thatched-roof and no walls. The first floor of Yaquimo is a restaurant. The dance lessons took place on the top floor.

As the light bounced back from the neighbors’ wall which showcased a colorful mural, it animated the space… It was great to see the shadows dancing together. There was no city electricity; the only light came from small light-bulbs powered by a generator. There was also no music but the shadows followed a rhythm with the energetic teachers’ instructions. All could make out the song, in their head, with their companion.

Lights Camera Action

This reminds me of an observation one architect made about her stay in Jacmel while working for the construction of a school there. She thought the city looked like the backdrop to a James Bond movie… exotic, tranquil (until something happens), rich, scenic…. It truly does.

While one cares about exhibiting in Jacmel, there is a sense of the action behind the work. The city seems to be constantly producing. It was a treat to visit the school that applies the best to this reality. Ciné Institute, tucked away in a closed down hotel “Indian Rock Hotel” has been functioning since 2006. It started by an initiative of the founders to start a film festival in the city. Film Festival Jakmel.

Today, Ciné Institute plays an important role in bringing people into the city of Jacmel. When I met David Belle, the founder of the school, he mentioned that in 4 days, he already had 4 private jets fly into the city with celebrities such as Adriana Lima (what a coincidence that her name is Adriana) Russel James and Donna Karan.

I have been watching Ciné Institute grow from afar, for a while now, and I was glad to visit the place, meet David Belle and some of the students. They have been working very hard at shining a positive light unto the city, once again demonstrating the impressive sense of progressive civic responsibility the Jacmelians have.

Early sketch

Below is a sketch illustrating how I wished to tackle issues of transparency with the Manoir Alexandra. When I started research for my thesis during the Summer of 2011, I was interested in using the Manoir as an accessible and progressive Town Hall.   I had begun altering the architecture of the mansion to provide more porches and public viewing access to the bay. Now, I am more inclined to keeping the aspect of the house in ruins, conserving memories of the aftermath of a catastrophe and its impact on the architecture of a place.

As I have learned in November 2011, that the Manoir Alexandra is becoming a cultural center and museum space, the goal is now to occupy its interiors, and most importantly its gardens, while perpetuating the narratives I wish to preserve in my thesis. 

During my happy life as a girl, there had always been three spaces- the inward garden, the exterior courtyard, and the Caribbean side. It was very warm in all of them.

Hadriana in All my Dreams | René Depestre

The Architecture of Participation

Concerned with the lack of governance and citizen participation in Haiti, and having experienced the same issue in the US by attempting to work in various voluntary groups, it has always interested me to create spaces that would encourage civic participation.

The “Architecture of Participation” is currently used to describe the way in which people are connected via the 2.0 network. At first, my research consisted in building a website for people to share their experiences, in different places of Haiti and provide their views on how  they think they could improve those places.

A friend of mine listed my school projects to help me find the usual focus of my work. With this exercise, we found out that my work promotes little physical intervention. It deals with bringing people together with subtle urban and landscape schemes, or with a flexibility of space, with porosity and playfulness of space.

What has sparked my interest is the use of technology to create meeting places, with little physical/material intervention. Technology has helped generate many pop-up demonstrations and has been used to bring people together to either fight against a system or for pure fun. For example the ‘Dinner in White’ is an event, started in Paris, that brought people together for a large picnic in an undisclosed public place. The only requirement is to sign up for the event and wait for the location, the picnic day. Inspired by this spontaneity of wanting to commune, my interest to bring people together for meetings in a transparent, flexible space, have led me to a space of congregation, generator of ideas and platform for cross-cultural exchange.