5 design elements to think about when building in Haiti


If you are interested in building in Haiti and are ready to speak with an architect about your exciting new plans, here are five design elements you can follow to create a nice environment for yourself. They are all inspired by the historic gingerbread houses of Haiti:


In Gingerbread houses, floor to ceiling heights range from three to five meters. This allows for greater ventilation. When you design high ceilings, you can plan for openings to let hot air escape and you also have more wall space to adorn with artwork or different types of storage.


If you speak with engineers in Haiti, they will tell you to minimize the amount of openings in your house to counteract seismic lateral forces. However, gingerbread houses have cleverly been built to allow large door and window openings with structural elements that are interwoven into the aesthetics of the building. Do not be afraid to push for a harmonic relationship between your architect and your engineer so that they can propose plans for proper ventilation within your house.


Summer in Haiti is year-round and you want to take advantage of your tropical breezes at all times. Plan for a porch. What’s there not to love in an open-air living room in which you can host guests, enjoy the sunlight and lower your electricity bills? When it rains, we all tend to close our windows in Haiti. A clever way to prevent suffering from the heat is with a porch. In this open-air space, you can stay dry, and rejoice the sound of the rain and nice breeze that comes with it…  and why not on the traditional Haitian rocking chair, with a nice cocktail? If you are building up several floors, balconies are also a good substitute for porches, especially in apartment buildings.


How secure do you feel behind high  Concrete Modular Units (CMU) walls? The legendary urbanist Jane Jacobs who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year has convinced the global urban community that “eyes on the streets” are the best way to prevent crime. In their guidebook for the preservation of the historic gingerbread district of Port-au-Prince, Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète, FOKAL encourages homeowners to keep the height of their walls at less than one meter and a half. If more privacy is wished, perhaps a beautiful screened walls taking advantage of the metal fence artist community could be added to this wall. Keeping in mind that free-standing walls cost a fortune, why not use that capital instead to design a beautiful house that passersby can learn to respect as an enjoyable landmark in their commute. With the money saved on a fence wall, you can plan for the higher ceilings mentioned as the first design element of this article.


Regular gardens, roof gardens, terraced gardens, potted plants, … – they are all very important to think about in the design of your new home, not only because it is proven that greenery helps improve your livelihood but here is your opportunity to remind yourself daily of the stark environmental issues in Haiti.

Nathalie Jolivert

Image: William Daniels/Time

Architect, artist and avid researcher whose work and writings are inspired by culture, stories, nature and emotions ... currently itching to travel the globe and collect more stories!


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