This semester’s studio assignment was one that everyone in our group will remember as being different and more rewarding than most. It will be remembered for re-shaping our notion of the world. It will be remembered for being real.
In so many instances we are tasked with designing imaginary buildings on unobtainable sites using untested means of construction. They certainly have their merits as they challenge us to expand our mental horizons, but they are also limited. Cost is seldom an issue. Rarely are we challenged with the builder’s dilemma that if we can draw it… they can build it. Haiti is different. These buildings will be built.
After being totally blown away by how far our preconceptions were off before traveling to Haiti, we set down to work designing appropriate homes for Haitian civilians. Like most every studio project we minded local context and regional flavor, but unlike other projects, we found it disrespectful and incorrect to veer far from these precedents. The building process in Haiti, we realized, was something the people were proud of… something they could control… something that should remain intact.
Rather than trying to create an American design and give it to Haiti where it would surely be rejected and ignored, we attempted to design Haitian. Instead of introducing disorder and chaos to a land riddled with such things, we emphasized rationality above all else. Our designs were decidedly un-American. Not in the sense that they hate America, but in the sense that they are strongly dislocated from their nation of their designers.