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Little by Little, We Will Arrive: Rebuilding a School in Haiti

Gensler Haiti

In the wake of one of the worst earthquakes in Haiti’s history, the world focused its attention on the extensive damage to the country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. What went somewhat overlooked was that the catastrophe of equal magnitude that was unfolding on Haiti’s southern coast in the city of Jacmel, where as many as 70 percent of the homes were damaged or destroyed. The images left no doubt in our minds - we knew we needed to put our talents to use to help Haitians recover from this terrible disaster.

Gensler partnered with relief agency Operation USA, which was heavily involved in Haitian relief efforts, and Honeywell Corporation to reconstruct the Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez primary school in Jacmel. This school serves over 400 students in grades K-7 who could not otherwise afford primary education. The project gave us an opportunity to provide a safe place for Jacmel’s children to learn during the tumultuous rebuilding process, and to use the construction process to teach local engineers about creating buildings capable of withstanding future earthquakes and hurricanes.

Our team worked closely with the city’s mayor, Edwin Zenny, who is also a nationally known anti-corruption figure and committed activist for the city’s future, to ensure the process went smoothly and the reconstructed school met the surrounding community’s needs. Gensler donated all design services for the new school and secured the donation of structural drawings from the American based engineering firm Miyamoto International.

We are pleased to announce that the Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez re-opened its doors on October 18th, 2011 to lots of smiling faces and groups of children eager for a bit of normalcy in what has otherwise been a difficult year.

The design
Gensler Haiti

Given the need for an immediate response, five Gensler team members traveled to Jacmel in the wake of the earthquake and spent four days learning about the region and the unique set of design parameters stemming from the situation. Our team members quickly learned that everything from finding the necessary construction supplies to designing a working plumbing system posed significant challenges.

Our design team proposed simple, single-story buildings that could be easily constructed by local builders. Everything from the construction materials to the furniture came from within Haiti to promote local growth. We strove to ensure the design would be as cost-effective as possible and could be replicated by Haitian engineers and construction workers. Our approach allows the school to be used for teaching of techniques that will be applied in the construction of subsequent buildings throughout the area and hopefully throughout the country.

Gensler Haiti

The extensive damage to roads and public buildings in Jacmel has segregated many communities, so we designed the school to promote a larger sense of community and give the kids a place they could feel comfortable calling their own. The building is laid out around a series of connected outdoor spaces and courtyards which function as a key social connector between classrooms for all grade levels. We also took advantage of Jacmel’s warm tropical climate by aligning the classroom buildings along the north-south direction to capture prevailing westerly winds. This natural system of ventilation keeps cooling costs at a minimum and literally gives the kids plenty of breaths of fresh air throughout the day.

Gensler Haiti

All of these design elements contribute to what we hope will become the vibrant, campus-like environment of shared, multi-generational educational experience and community involvement.

As my colleague Wendi Gilbert told me, the Haitians have a saying “piti piti na rive” which means “little by little, we will arrive.” This is particularly appropriate for education, which involves preparing children for the future one year at a time. Re-opening the Ecole Nationale Jacob Martin Henriquez is a little step in the city of Jacmel’s rebuilding process, but providing the area’s youth a fun and safe place where they can continue their academic and social development will hopefully help the residents arrive at brighter future.

Gensler Haiti

Nila J Leiserowitz has spent 30 years pushing the limits of interior design and workplace performance strategy. Her passion for interior spaces and improving their service to the people who use those environments also drives her continued pursuit of education and outreach within the industry and beyond.Contact her at nila_leiserowitz@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (1)

One has to think about the tragedies these children have gone through. This school isn't just symbolic of hope, it is hope.

Thank you Nila for sharing this story.
10.31.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoniene Swick

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