Jacmel, the “cultural capital of Haiti,” is a picturesque city located on the country’s southeastern coast. Established in 1698 by France, it is renowned for its tropically infused European architecture, its welcoming people, its artist community and its vibrant carnival season. Jacmel’s historic district was damaged by the earthquake of January 2010 and made the 2012 World Monument Heritage Watch List. Today, Jacmel presents rich potential as a prototype for both architectural and cultural preservation.
The Manoir Alexandra, an early twentieth-century masonry building located in Jacmel’s historic district, is a powerful symbol of Haiti’s cultural identity. Made famous by the novel Hadriana in All My Dreams, by the Jacmelian author René Dépestre, the Manoir represents Haiti’s spatial and cultural narrative and the complexities that surround cultural ownership of Haitian identity. These complexities are literally present in the changes that the Manoir has undergone since its construction in the early 1900s. While its initial use as a private residence for a French family demarcated class and privilege, by the 1980s it became a threshold between the local and international community as a hotel.
This architectural thesis seeks to foster a beneficial cultural exchange within the city of Jacmel and with the global community by transforming the Manoir Alexandra into a house museum that challenges cultural assimilation and provides exhibition and performance spaces. The house museum itself is dedicated to the exhibition of Oath of the Ancestors (1822), a historic painting that reveals a narrative of European dominance in conflict with Afro-Caribbean heritage. Visitors’ movement through the house museum into its gardens follows a spiral pattern reminiscent of an iron spiral staircase, a common architectural characteristic in Jacmel that is in fact imported from Europe. The spiraling pathway ends in the Manoir’s garden, where Jacmel’s dance academy studios are nestled in dense vegetation in an atmosphere recalling forest dance rituals during colonial times. Throughout this architectural thesis and this accompanying text, complex narratives from past and present are stitched together, acknowledging a history that deals precisely with the cultural clash that may occur when those two worlds collide.
Author of this Blog: Nathalie Jolivert | Rhode Island School of Design | Bachelors of Architecture Candidate 2012 | www.jolivert.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
I would be delighted to receive feedback on this architecture thesis, please feel free to comment or contact me with questions, feedback, precedent studies, or any additional information