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Thesis

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A la fin de 1946, à mon arrivée à Paris, je me précipitai, haletant, au musée du Louvre, vers la célèbre toile de Leonardo, comme au premier rendez-vous pris loin de Jacmel avec Nana Siloé. J’en fus profondément décú. La Joconde était bien le chef-d’oeuvre d’un peintre génial, mais, comparée à la jeune fille de …

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Below is a sketch illustrating how I wished to tackle issues of transparency with the Manoir Alexandra. When I started research for my thesis during the Summer of 2011, I was interested in using the Manoir as an accessible and progressive Town Hall.   I had begun altering the architecture of the mansion to provide more porches and public viewing access to the bay. Now, I am more inclined to keeping the aspect of the house in ruins, conserving memories of the aftermath of a catastrophe and its impact on the architecture of a place.

As I have learned in November 2011, that the Manoir Alexandra is becoming a cultural center and museum space, the goal is now to occupy its interiors, and most importantly its gardens, while perpetuating the narratives I wish to preserve in my thesis. 

During my happy life as a girl, there had always been three spaces- the inward garden, the exterior courtyard, and the Caribbean side. It was very warm in all of them.

Hadriana in All my Dreams | René Depestre

Les Papillons ne sont que des fleurs envolées un jour de fête où la nature était en veine d’invention et de fécondité. “Butterflies are but flowers that blew away one sunny day when Nature was feeling at her most inventive and fertile.” George Sand

“Go Hadriana!” said a voice inside on the Caribbean side

Hadriana In All my Dreams- René Dépestre 

In Hadriana in All my Dreams, Granchiré is a Man-Butterfly who terrorizes Jacmelian families by luring their young women. On the day of her wedding, Hadriana dies at the altar of the Cathedral St Phillipe & St Jacques. Although some believe that her passion to marry has caused her death, the following day her corpse disappears from the cemetery. Those who had tried fervently to bring her back to life with Vaudou processions on the Place d’Armes, are finally convinced that Granchiré had not been satisfied yet. For a very last time, he takes away the life and purity of a young girl.

An attempt at a thesis statement, in which I let René Depestre’s protagonist haunt the ‘constructions of my thoughts’.

In the Caribbean city of Jacmel, the Manoir Alexandra, an early 20th century white-brick building sits in a historic colonial district. On its Northern façade, turquoise wooden-framed windows overlook a barren plaza, while Southern iron-cast balconies offer views of a quiet bay. Layers of chipped paint and missing window panes, illustrate a desolation that has struck the Southern city of Jacmel since the closing of its commercial port in the 1960s. The city’s economic decadence accelerated when a powerful earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, affecting much of the historic district and adding long cracks to the aging structure of the Manoir.
Alexandra looks like an actress whose grandiose years have been left behind in an era of a now lost coffee industry. Her state of disrepair perpetuates the fictional novel that made her famous. Visitors, who learned about her resident zombie bride, Hadriana, look for traces of the young French girl in its decaying walls, mahogany stairs, and spacious rooms. On the inclined balcony, Hadriana combs her hair while looking out towards a lush garden on the Caribbean side. Her story is a threshold into the mystical city of Jacmel. The current generation of Jacmelians is young and unaware of Hadriana’s story which, not only translates a magical language, but also allows an appropriate understanding of the city’s complex social inheritance. In the novel, Hadriana’s disappearance coincides with Jacmel’s actual decadence. Yet it also calls for a reunion between the Haitian population and the international community. René Dépestre has been criticized for idolizing his protagonist and her symbolism in a proud emancipated Black society, yet his novel depicts exactly the complicated relationship between Haiti and the world.
Today, Jacmel is at the forefront of the Haitian government’s efforts towards the redevelopment of tourism in the country. Its historic district has made the 2012 World Monument Heritage Watch List and presents a rich potential as a prototype of cultural preservation and reconstruction, yet it also faces the challenge of pushing against a global tourism economy that favors chain resorts and might render a weak government, even more vulnerable. The Manoir Alexandra, a physical anchor between the upper and lower sides of the city and threshold between the town and the international population, is located at the southern end of a ring of civic buildings, in which important decisions for the city and whole South-East Department are made. While taking into account the legend that has made the Manoir Alexandra important, this thesis will explore how this prime piece of real-estate can mediate a mutually beneficial relationship between the global community and the local inhabitants of Jacmel who have long been renowned for their welcoming habits, their vibrant art scene, progressive philosophies and vivacity in social affairs, despite the many challenges that have crippled Haïti, throughout the years.

Concerned with the lack of governance and citizen participation in Haiti, and having experienced the same issue in the US by attempting to work in various voluntary groups, it has always interested me to create spaces that would encourage civic participation.

The “Architecture of Participation” is currently used to describe the way in which people are connected via the 2.0 network. At first, my research consisted in building a website for people to share their experiences, in different places of Haiti and provide their views on how  they think they could improve those places.

A friend of mine listed my school projects to help me find the usual focus of my work. With this exercise, we found out that my work promotes little physical intervention. It deals with bringing people together with subtle urban and landscape schemes, or with a flexibility of space, with porosity and playfulness of space.

What has sparked my interest is the use of technology to create meeting places, with little physical/material intervention. Technology has helped generate many pop-up demonstrations and has been used to bring people together to either fight against a system or for pure fun. For example the ‘Dinner in White’ is an event, started in Paris, that brought people together for a large picnic in an undisclosed public place. The only requirement is to sign up for the event and wait for the location, the picnic day. Inspired by this spontaneity of wanting to commune, my interest to bring people together for meetings in a transparent, flexible space, have led me to a space of congregation, generator of ideas and platform for cross-cultural exchange.