Haiti Conservation and Reconstruction Efforts

Earlier this year, the ICOMOS Secretariat requested that all national committees identify projects in Haiti related to the built environment developed by public or private entities that might affect cultural resources. Based on preliminary research, USICOMOS sent the roster of US projects to the ICOMOS Secretariat in July and the information will be forwarded to our peers in Haiti for use as they develop stabilization and conservation plans. If you know of programs we may have missed, we appreciate hearing about them and will update our information to send to ICOMOS and ISPAN.

USICOMOS would like to thank all volunteers who offered their expertise after the earthquake, we have documented the responses, provided them to ICOMOS for the international database, and will continue to update our members as the Haitian authorities identify opportunities for involvement.

While humanitarian projects are the current focus of the international community, conservation efforts have begun in the historic areas of the capital Port-au-Prince, the towns Dondon and Milot in the North, and Jacmel in the Southwest region of Haiti.  The following are brief descriptions of the United States’ conservation and reconstruction efforts across the country based on US/ICOMOS’ investigation.

US Legislation for Haitian earthquake response

The S. 3317 Haiti Empowerment Assistance Recovery Act (HEAR) introduced May 5, 2010 is sponsored by Senator John Kerry and Senator Bob Corker. “The legislation directs the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a comprehensive rebuilding and development strategy for Haiti, establishes a policy framework to ensure U.S. assistance efforts will strategically address critical priorities, and establishes a Senior Haiti Policy Coordinator, responsible for advising, overseeing, and coordinating U.S. policy towards Haiti.”  If passed, USAID, civil society organizations, private sector entities, in consultation with the Haitian Government will prepare and submit to US Congress a multi-year rebuilding and development strategy. The HEAR Act will authorize up to $3.5 billion over five years in support of long-term recovery.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Kerry-Corker Legislation on May 25 but the act has not yet made it to the Senate floor. (1)
On June 22, 2010, Senator Kerry issued a Senate report criticizing the progress made in Haiti in the six months since the earthquake. The report cites the failure of the Haitian government to take action for the millions of displaced Haitians and the stalled reconstruction of the collapsed buildings across the country. Haitian President René Préval replied that U.S government aid also stalled; the U.S. Senate still has not approved aid money that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised at the donors’ conference and since the report was released only two percent (2%) of the $5.3 billion in near-term aid pledges have actually been delivered. (2)
The latest Senate action on July 19 placed HEAR on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Order, Calendar No.  468. (3)


The Gingerbread Houses in the Bois Verna, Pacot, and Turgeau neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince were built at the turn of the century when Haiti hosted the Paris Exposition in 1900. These houses represent the iconic architecture of Haiti detailed with fretted wood and intricate latticework. The construction of Gingerbread houses stopped in 1925 when timber frame construction was banned to prevent fires. (4)    Prior to the earthquake, The John McAslan Family Trust, based in London, was working with HELP, Haiti’s leading provider of merit based university scholarships, and the Clinton Global Initiative to transform one of the Gingerbread houses as a center for the organization. Once the project is completed the project will be the country’s first green restoration of an historic structure. (5)

Conor Bohan from HELP, nominated the Gingerbread houses in the Bois Verna Neighborhood to the World Monuments Fund 2010 Watch. After the earthquake, the Fund completed a preliminary damage and repair feasibility assessment of earthquake-damaged houses from both aerial survey and ground inspection. They developed a database to manage technical, historic, and ownership information related to the Gingerbread Houses. The database will be an open platform to enable information to be added over time by property owners and professionals in Haiti. With appropriate funding, the information will be compiled into a manual for repairing and conserving the structure of the Gingerbread typology in Haiti. (6)    New York based architecture firm, Beyer Blinder and Belle is currently offering planning and design assistance to the World Monuments Fund Gingerbread Houses project. Architect John Belle announced future plans to travel to Haiti with a team to help design new and stronger structures to replace the substandard homes and buildings that existed when the earthquake hit. (7)

As a co-chair for the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, President Clinton asked Scottish architect John McAslan to lead the rebuilding in Haiti. McAslan was successful in the design of easily constructed schools in Malawi and will oversee a similar project in Haiti but with earthquake proof buildings. In addition, John McAslan and London based Malcolm Reading Consultants designed an architectural competition, Building Back Better Communities, for the Haitian government to investigate permanent housing options for displaced citizens. A prototype housing Expo will take place in Port-au-Prince from early October 2010 through 2011. The development of an exemplar housing settlement is expected to follow shortly after. The proposals call for the use of local materials and to employ Haitians for management roles as well as manufacturing jobs. The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, the primary entity responsible for overseeing the recovery and rebuilding process, will determine the next steps once finalists are chosen. (8)

In Port-au Prince, the Smithsonian Institution organized a project to help Haiti assess, recover, and restore damaged artwork, artifacts, documents, media, and architectural features. The Government of Haiti, Ministry of Culture and Communication, and the Presidential Commission for Reconstruction, with the U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities have partnered with the Smithsonian. They have leased the former UN Development Program building to store objects retrieved from the rubble. The cultural materials will remain the property of the owners and with their permission, a committee of Haitian cultural leaders will help prioritize collections to be saved.  The project will also include training courses and workshops provided by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). The courses will be available for several dozen Haitian museum staff, cultural workers, and students to learn the arts and sciences of restoration. (9)

Architecture for Humanity (AfH) is providing professional training services to support Haitian community organizations. In April, a rebuilding center was created to serve as an office for volunteer professionals who are assisting in the capacity building of local professionals. The AfH is working on the building of schools, community facilities and sustainable housing. They are overseeing the creation of a construction manual as well as training courses to introduce techniques and safe practices in building Haiti-specific earthquake and hurricane resistant structures. The Manual is available here: http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/projects/rebuilding101.  In addition, AfH provided a grant to the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) and KPFF Engineering to conduct confined masonry training in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and Leogane. The trainings address unreinforced masonry structures, the quality of concrete, reinforcing bars without ribs, and the lack of building codes and of transverse reinforcement. Since April, 560 masons have been trained. (10)    At the end of January 2010, AIDG and the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) provided funding for ten engineers to provide preliminary structural assessments for standing critical buildings in Port-au-Prince. There they devised a posting system in which green stands for safe occupancy, yellow for limited use, and red no entry unless controlled by jurisdiction. (11)

The 1891 Hyppolite Market in Port-au-Prince signified the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Haiti. It was one among several iron structures in Haiti built by the Architects Baudent & Donon and named after the reigning President Florvil Hyppolite. It was the most visited tourist site in Haiti in the 1960s and was the main shopping and business center of Port-au-Prince. Both roofs of the North and South Halls were nearly destroyed in a 2008 fire and the 2010 earthquake destroyed the foundation of the tower. (12)  The current restoration project is funded by Denis O’Brien of DIGICEL, a telecom company and the single largest investor in Haiti with a total investment of over $300 million. (13)   O’Brien selected John McAslan + Partners, George Howard an engineer for metallic structures, Robert Bowles an engineer specializing in historic monuments, and the construction consultant John Milton to recover the Hyppolite Market. The project began in February 2010. (14)

The U.S. Department of State Cultural Heritage Center has supported three preservation projects since the earthquake. The Cultural Antiquities Task Force and the International Council of Museums have categorized moveable cultural heritage that is in danger of being looted and exported from Haiti. The information is documented in a brochure, the Emergency Red list of Endangered Haitian Cultural Objects, which will be distributed to law enforcement, custom officials and other entities involved in the protection of cultural heritage. The US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is supporting Haiti’s Institut de Sauvegarde de Patrimoine National (ISPAN) in their inventory and assessment of the cultural heritage sites in Port-au-Prince. They are also working together to to preserve the Citadelle Laferrière and the Palais de Sans-Souci. Combined the projects represent more than $430,000 towards the protection of Haiti’s cultural heritage. (15)

Dondon and Milot

The Citadelle Laferrière near the towns of Dondon and Milot North of Port-au-Prince was constructed between 1806-1820 during the reign of Henri Christophe; a leader in the slave rebellion that liberated Haiti from France in 1804. Inscribed in the World Heritage List, it is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere and an enduring icon of Haitian independence. Due to poor road infrastructure a very small number of tourists visit the Citadelle annually. USAID, Royal Caribbean Cruse Lines, Clinton Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank have collaborated with Patrick Delatour, Haiti’s Minister of Tourism to develop the National History Park- the Citadelle, the Palace of Sans Souci, and Ramiers as a tourist destination.(16)

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines leases the beaches of Labadee, 100 miles North of Port-au-Prince, from the Haitian government and is interested in making the Citadelle a shore excursion. (17)  The cruise line has also partnered with Clinton Global Initiative and RJL Companies to build hotels in Cap-Haitian. (18)  The Inter-American Development Bank initiated two projects in 2008 to promote economic activities that protect the ecologic and cultural resources of Dondon-Milot. The Bank’s objective is to strengthen micro-enterprises created by the project through sustainable rural community tourism activities. (19) (20)  Yves Lesenfants, Technical Advisor to the Multilateral Investment Cluster Fund for Sustainable Tourism, designed a methodology for community-based tourism that relies on GPS mapping technology, assessment of the area’s viability for tourism, and marketing. He has applied this methodology in Venezuela and is leading the sustainable tourism project for the Multilateral Investment Fund in Haiti. His approach could allow Haitian citizens to identify, organize, and use their most valuable resources for sustainable development. (21)   The Inter-American Culture and Development Fund has proposed a museum project centered at the Citadelle and Cap-Haitien. According to the proposal the historic jail in Cap-Haitien would be converted into an interpretive center and artisan market for Haitian and Dominican Republican children and youth. (22)  The project will coincide with USAID and Royal Caribbean’s plans to build a road to the Citadelle.


Jacmel has been described as the cultural epicenter of Haiti and was inscribed on the World Heritage Tentative list in 2004. The city was nearly destroyed in a fire in 1895 and was rebuilt according to the original urban plan with prefabricated houses from Belgium. (23)   During the World Monuments Fund Mission to Haiti in February 2010, serious damage was found to the city’s important monuments of Manoir Alexandra and Macri House as well as the historic streets of Rue du Commerce and Rue St. Anne (See photo to the right). (24)   As one of the most visited cities in Haiti, the Inter-American Development Bank has proposed a project to improve the competitiveness of the tourism industry in the town. The project would address the hotel facilities, provide training to the employees, and increase marketing of Jacmel as a tourist destination. (25)


MIT PHD and Masters students Aaron Zinman and Greg Elliott have developed Konbit, a free skill indexing communication platform that aims to help Haiti rebuild by indexing language and construction skills of local residents so that NGOs can quickly find and employ them.  Konbit allows Haitians, their Diaspora and the international community to report their skills by phone, text message or web. The information is then translated into Creole and made into voice messages; valuable resources as an estimated half of Haitians are illiterate. Konbit intends to train and employ Haitians in relief and reconstruction work rather than outsiders from international NGOS. The database lists a range of experiences not only citizen’s primary skills, but their secondary skills as well.  Elliott and Zinman said that Konbit would progress and adapt as they learn about the skills available in Haiti. Since March, the beta version of the site has gone live, and Elliott and Zinman have partnered with DIGICEL and the U.N. Development Program to continue developing the platform. Throughout the project, Elliott and Zinman will conduct an ethnographic study of Konbit involving Haitian students to examine interaction patterns and user  experience before deploying the final system. (26)

End Notes:

 (1) Senator John Kerry Press Release. Kerry, Corker Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Support and Rebuild Haiti. May 5, 2010.  http://kerry.senate.gov/press/release/?id=18a75e93-8634-42ca-87c6-1a2999b6293e
(2) Katz, Jonathan. The Associated Press. US Senate report says Haiti rebuilding has stalled. June 22, 2010. http://kerry.senate.gov/press/in_the_news/article/?id=79b58c28-5056-a032-52dd-6aa125475c47
(3) To track S. 3317 HEAR Act on Open Congress: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s3317/show
(4) World Monuments Fund. Current Watch Site Gingerbread Houses. http://www.wmf.org/project/gingerbread-houses
(5) The John McAslan Family Trust. Projects: Haitian Education Leadership Program (HELP).
(6) Avrami, Erica. Re: Request for Information re:Haiti. Email from World Monuments Fund. May 18, 2010
(7) Tennery, Amy. The Real Deal Online. Firms head to Haiti. March 1, 2010. http://therealdeal.com/newyork/articles/firms-head-to-haiti
(8)Malcolm Reading Consultants. Building Back Better Communities Competition. June 18, 2010.
(9) Smithsonian Institution. Haitian Cultural Recovery Project. July 29, 2010. http://haiti.si.edu/index.html
(10) Architecture for Humanity. Haiti Mason Training from Partner AIDG. May 24, 2010. http://architectureforhumanity.org/updates/2010-05-24-haiti-mason-training-update-from-partner-aidg.
Architecture for Humanity Haiti Updates: http://architectureforhumanity.org/programs/haiti-earthquake-rebuilding
(11) MCEER Earthquake Engineering to Extreme Events. MCEER- AIDG Coordinate with UN on Haiti Earthquake Engineering Relief Mission. http://www.eqclearinghouse.org/20100112-haiti/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/MCEER-AIDG-Recap_02-11-10.pdf
(12) Bulletin de l’ISPAN No. 13. La Restauration de la Marche Hyppolite. June 1, 2010. http://haiti.org/files/BULLETIN%20DE%20L’ISPAN%20No%2013%20WEB.pdf
(13) DIGICEL Group. DIGICEL Chairman, Denis O’Brien, named Goodwill Ambassador for the city of Port-au-Prince. Feburary 18, 2010. http://www.digicelgroup.com/en/media-center/press-releases/achievements/digicel-chairman-denis-obrien-named-goodwill-ambassador-for-the-city-of-port-au-prince
(14) Bulletin de l’ISPAN No. 10. Jacmel Sursum Coda. March 1, 2010. In English: haiti-patrimoine.org/wp…/03/BULLETIN-DE-LISPAN-10ENGLISH1.doc. In French: http://www.lacult.org/docc/BULLETIN_DE_LISPAN_No_10.pdf
(15)United States Mission to UNESCO. US Continues Its Support for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Haiti. August 5, 2010. http://unesco.usmission.gov/cultural-heritage-preservation-haiti.html
(16) Charles, Jacqueline. Embassy of Haiti. Royal Caribbean Boosts Haiti’s Tourism Comeback Efforts. September 26, 2009. http://www.haiti.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=115%3A092609-royal-caribbean-boosts-haitis-tourism-comeback-efforts&catid=1%3Alatest-news&Itemid=1
(17)National Public Radio. Royal Caribbean Provides Tourists, Relief to Haiti. January 19, 2010. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122716579
(18) National Public Radio. Business Mogul Bob Johnson Vows To Help Rebuild Haiti. June 30, 2010. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128215442
(19) Inter-American Development Bank. HA-M1012: Promotion of Community Tourism in the North Department of Haiti. March 24, 2008. http://www.iadb.org/projects/Project.cfm?project=HA-M1012&Language=English
(20) Inter-American Development Bank. HA-M1037 Developing the North as a Tourism Destination. http://www.iadb.org/projects/Project.cfm?project=HA-M1037&Language=English
(21) Ashoka Innovators for the Public. Yves Lesenfants 2007 Ashoka Fellow. July 29, 2010. http://www.ashoka.org/fellow/4420
(22) Inter-American Culture and Development Foundation.  http://www.iacdf.org/
(23) Bulletin de l’ISPAN No. 10. Jacmel Sursum Coda. March 1, 2010. In English: haiti-patrimoine.org/wp…/03/BULLETIN-DE-LISPAN-10ENGLISH1.doc.
(24) Barbacci, Norma. World Monuments Fund. Mission to Santo Domingo and Jacmel. February 18, 2010. http://www.wmf.org/field/mission-santo-domingo-and-jacmel
(25) Inter-American Development Bank. HA-M1027 Improving the Competitiveness of the Tourism Enterprises in Jacmel. June 25, 2010. http://www.iadb.org/projects/Project.cfm?project=HA-M1027&Language=English
(26) KONBIT Site: http://konbit.media.mit.edu/  Press Kit. April 15, 2010. http://konbit-vm.media.mit.edu/konbit-presskit.pdf
Prepared by volunteer Harmony Lamm under the supervision of Katherine Slick, Executive Director, US/ICOMOS

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