Site History and Significance
Uniquely Haitian Architectural Heritage
The elegant, turn-of-the century “gingerbread” houses of Port-au-Prince, detailed with fretted wood and intricate latticework, constitute a uniquely Haitian architectural heritage and are important examples of a postcolonial building style. In addition to serving as emblems of Haiti’s rich past, they have become symbolic of the country’s rebuilding after the devastating earthquake of January 2010. To the Haitian people, the houses are reminders of a time of prosperity and creativity, and their survival in Port-au-Prince is an inspiration for a future when Haiti will flourish once again.
Value and Contemporary Relevance
By the early 2000s, many of the buildings in the Gingerbread Neighborhood had fallen into disrepair, and political instability and economic strife had precluded substantive preservation efforts. And when the catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, wreaking immense destruction on the country’s built fabric and infrastructure, many of the gingerbread houses were damaged. Fortunately, most houses resisted collapse and even served as shelters during the earthquake, demonstrating the value and contemporary relevance of their hybrid design.
2010 World Monuments Watch
In October 2009, just a few months before the earthquake, the Gingerbread Neighborhood of Port-au-Prince was included on the 2010 World Monuments Watch to raise international awareness of its unique architectural heritage. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Haitian government prioritized the gingerbread houses for international conservation assistance, providing World Monuments Fund (WMF) with an opportunity to act.
Building Community through Restoration and Education
WMF worked with local and international institutions to coordinate assistance efforts and to design a collaborative project aimed at the recovery of the Gingerbread Neighborhood. These efforts were combined with those of the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL), the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP), and ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites). Work culminated in an assessment mission to evaluate the conditions of the gingerbread houses, the results of which were published by WMF in Preserving Haiti’s Gingerbread Houses: 2010 Earthquake Mission Report.
A Focus on the Maison Dufort
The next phase of the project focused on capacity building and education. With the collaboration of the Institut du Patrimoine Wallon (IPW), trainees participated in a field school to gain hands-on knowledge about the repair of gingerbread houses. This program was carried out at the Maison Dufort, a typical gingerbread house, located in the Bois Verna neighborhood and owned by FOKAL since 2011. The building required structural stabilization and seismic reinforcement, and between 2012 and 2016, it underwent termite treatment and other repairs to its structural frame. The Maison Dufort was inaugurated in March 2016 with guided tours and the opening of an art exhibition on the premises.
The goal of this partnership was to train a cadre of skilled heritage practitioners and to develop a body of educational materials that could advance conservation efforts in the Gingerbread Neighborhood and throughout Haiti. The combined efforts of the participating organizations were supplemented by workshops for owners of historic buildings to expand their awareness of preservation opportunities.
Further Listings on the Watch
The Gingerbread Neighborhood was included on the Watch again in 2012 and 2020 to encourage further recovery work at the site and to raise awareness of its history and significance. The 2020 Watch called for the formation of a consortium of all institutional custodians of the gingerbread houses that would offer mutual support in the form of shared expertise, a materials bank, and access to financing for restoration through a loan fund.
WMF’s continued focus on the recovery of the Gingerbread Neighborhood led to the launch of a new project at the Maison Gauthier, a century-old gingerbread house and the former residence of dancer Viviane Gauthier (1918–2017).
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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World Monuments Fund's work at Maison Gauthier has been made possible, in part, by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) and the U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince.