Old New Cathedral Spoken in Haitian

Old New Cathedral Spoken in Haitian is a project proposal for an international design competition for the reconstruction of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral Notre Dame de l’Assomption – an iconic Haiti structure of cultural and national significance, destroyed by the earthquake of January 12, 2010. The competition was organized by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince. The program was aiming at: the creation of a new center of worship looking for a better future and yet honoring the past; the limitation the structure within the current footprint of the Cathedral ruins; the respect the social (beliefs, memory, traditions) and environmental conditions (climate, hurricanes, seismicity).

The design challenges embrace three main aspects of the Cathedral.

(1)   Its role in the development of the Haitian culture showing how a European model with a completely different background applied to the local context starts a new construction tendency that subsequently creates an unstable “concrete” built environment. In this sense, the tragedy of 2010 could be viewed as a symbolic collapse of the imitation of foreign models, but also as an opportunity.

(2)   Its silhouette significance as an urbanistic and spiritual beacon.

(3)   Its substance importance expressed in the material and spiritual significance of the ruins.

The design strategy aims at creating a Cathedral “spoken in Haitian”, a structure that arises from the local context, learning from the past and in the same time meeting the global sustainable building principles. Thus the Cathedral could once again become a trendsetter for a new way of construction in Haiti that interprets the traditional techniques and their means of providing optimal bioclimatic environment and withstanding natural extremities and perils.

In addition, the spatial survey shows that the site has the potential to accommodate additional functions and to develop as a full community and parish center together with the Cathedral and the adjacent public spaces.

The execution includes:

  • Preservation and stabilization of the existing concrete structure – being the strongest memory bearer of the earthquake and its victims, as well as the material expression of the identity and devotion of the local parish.
  • Complementary new construction (steel frame structure, reinforced concrete foundations and shells) and a double-skin façade – recalling the Cathedral’s silhouette and interpreting traditional vernacular techniques.
  • Application of advanced technologies (solar photovoltaic panels and low energy consumption LED lighting).
  • Authors:
    Atelier 3: Miroslav Velkov, Donika Georgieva
  • Year: 2012
  • Client: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, Haiti
  • Status: international competition