In October 2009, the gingerbread houses of Port-au-Prince were included on the 2010 World Monuments Watch in order to raise international awareness about this unique architectural heritage. Many of these elegant, turn-of-the-century structures, detailed with fretted wood and intricate latticework, had fallen into disrepair. Political instability and economic strife had precluded substantive preservation efforts in recent decades, and support was needed for the revitalization of these important buildings and their communities. Less than three months later, the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, all but shattered the Haitian people and the places they hold dear. Though many of the gingerbread houses suffered significant damage, their traditional construction proved seismically resistant and very few collapsed. Thus, the Haitian government prioritized these neighborhoods with their iconic architecture for international conservation assistance.
How We Helped
Within four weeks of the January 2010 earthquake, WMF was in the field in Haiti, working with local and international institutions to coordinate assistance efforts and to forge a collaborative project aimed at the recovery of the Gingerbread Neighborhood. The combined investment and cooperative interests of WMF, Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL), the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP), and ICOMOS, along with the support of the Prince Claus Fund, led to an assessment mission to evaluate the conditions of the gingerbread houses, the results of which are published in Preserving Haiti’s Gingerbread Houses: 2010 Earthquake Mission Report. The next phase of the project focuses on capacity building and education. With the collaboration of the Institut du Patrimoine wallon, artisans are being trained in traditional construction and conservation techniques, and workshops for building-related professionals and homeowners are under development. The overall aim is to develop a cadre of skilled heritage practitioners and a body of educational materials that can advance conservation efforts in the Gingerbread Neighborhood and throughout Haiti.
Why It Matters
The gingerbread houses, with their intricate ornament and steeply pitched roofs, constitute an important period of post-colonial design and are emblematic of a uniquely Haitian architectural heritage. The Gingerbread Neighborhood is an icon of Haiti’s rich past, as well as a vital symbol for rebuilding the country. Conservation of the gingerbread houses benefits not just neighborhood businesses and residents, but also the Haitian community at large. Because of their traditional, resilient architecture, the gingerbreads can serve as an important tool for the design of new buildings in the recovery process, in addition to catalyzing economic and community opportunities.