One of the stunningly beautiful islands of the Caribbean, also called the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’, Haiti has been witness to a rich historic past. However, it was struck by an earthquake of catastrophic magnitude (7.0 on Richter scale) in January 2010 that destroyed its buildings and towns, displacing the people and their lives. Since then massive reconstruction efforts have been going on in Haiti in an attempt to rehouse its people and restore their lives and dignity.
Vincent Callebaut Architects have proposed a utopian eco-village, inspired by the coral reef, to provide housing for 1,000 Haitian families as part of the reconstruction efforts. They have developed a plug-in matrix to build a self sustainable village from a standardised and prefabricated module.
This basic module is a duplex of two passive houses, a metal structure with tropical wood facades interlocked around a transversal horizontal circulation linking every unit. Built upon seismic piers off the coast of the mainland, the Coral Reef project comprises two rows of wave-like housing structures standing on an artificial pier. The modular housing units are layered and cantilevered in staggering rows on the façade of these structures. The roof of each module offers itself as an organic suspended garden for each Creole family to cultivate their own food. Between the two inhabited waves is a lush interior canyon with terraces and cascades of food gardens. This canyon – the central axis and heart of the community life of this eco-village – will be a true reflection of the Haitian tropical ecosystem with its distinct and diverse local flora and fauna.
An anti-seismic basement, which will absorb the seismic shocks of an earthquake, will be provided in the heart of this canyon to provide a safety shell to its inhabitants in case of another natural calamity. This basement opens up to panoramic views of the ocean on the other side, and will be used as a multi-purpose community hub to enhance the social life of this futuristic village.
The visual sinuosity of the built landscape is further enhanced by its unique circulation. Eight columns, functioning as spines of vertical circulations, have been knitted to two horizontal storeys waving through the village from end to end. The whole set forms a compact orthogonal system that distributes the flow through each module.
The Master Plan offers itself to evolve and grow organically with the needs and the spatial demands of its inhabitants and the new extension modules can be plugged in to the existing urban framework.
The new extension modules can be prefabricated off site and shipped to the site to be rapidly installed and put to immediate use.
The entire complex is carbon neutral and powered via a number of different renewable energy sources as well as bioclimatic systems. Power will be generated from thermal energy conversion under the pier by making use of difference in temperatures of superficial and deep waters. The kinetic energy from marine currents will be converted into electricity with the help of hydro-turbines. The sinusoidal pergolas on the roof will have solar panels to tap solar energy. Wind turbines will tap the wind energy in the tropical gardens.
Aquaculture farms and pisciculture pools (facilitating fish farming) will surround the Coral Reef project. Purification plant lagoons will process and recycle the used water before rejecting it into the sea. In the context of humanitarian crisis, the Coral Reef prototype project is a positive and dynamic solution that advocates sustainable industrialised and standardised rebuilding of collective social housing of humanitarian and environmental high quality in disaster areas.
(The author, an architect and educator, can be reached at Vani.Bahl@gmail.com)