Columbia University and the Gingerbread Studio

In October HELP students assisted professors and students from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation (GSAPP) in a week-long studio project on Port-au-Prince’s Gingerbread architecture. Part of a semester course on Haitian Gingerbread architecture and urbanism at the GSAPP, the studio identified areas of Gingerbread concentration in Port-au-Prince, inventoried the houses and discussed ways to preserve them; all part of a larger Gingerbread preservation movement started in 2009 by HELP, FOKAL and World Monuments Fund.

Port-au-Prince native Jean Kenslé Figaro (economics ‘18) said that before the studio he never paid Gingerbread houses much attention, thinking that because they were old they had little value. However when he saw international architecture students working to preserve them he changed his mind. He also never thought Gingerbread architecture would allow him to meet students from as far away as China.

For Widley Marcelin (economics ‘18) the houses opened doors to history, engineering and software. “We can learn from these houses because they were more resistant to the earthquake than the more modern ones,” he said. Marcelin was also excited to learn about KoBoToolbox, the open-source data collection tool the studio used.

GSAAP Professors Erica Avrami and Will Raynolds were equally pleased with the results. “HELP students confronted very challenging working conditions and had to quickly adapt to a new group of older graduate students each time they joined us and they did so valiantly. They were especially helpful overcoming language barriers, assisting with translation within the team itself, and in the team’s interactions with residents and vendors. They have been an invaluable asset to the studio, and we look forward to working with them as the project progresses.”

Pierre-Charles Plaisir (computer science ’15), from the historic city of Jacmel, enjoyed working on a project that reminded him of his hometown architecture. When he signed up for the studio he envisioned teaching the visiting students all about Haiti and never imagined all the new things he would be exposed to. “At HELP,” he said, “I’m realizing that the more I help, the more I learn.”