"The Gigerbread Reclamation"
Despite falling into a state of negect and disrepair over the past century,
Port-au-Prince's beautiful, ornate 'gingerbread' houses were unlikely survivors
of last year's earthquake. As the Haitian capital recovers, these once-grand houses
are setting a foundation for its cultural and economic restoration.
Words by Marisa Mazria Katz | Photos by Sasha Bezzubov
The Wall Street Journal Magazine May 2011
Also inspired by Egon Schiele's towncapes this week.
Summer Landscape | 1917 | oil on canvas
The most famous of Port-au-Prince's so-called gingerbreads, the Hotel Oloffson,
with its stunning ornate lattice work, will be a focal point of a planned cultural
heritage district in the Pacot neighborhood, which has the highest concentration of
these uniquely designed homes
Schiele | Suburb I | 1914 | canvas mounted on pressed wood
The renovations to this neglected 1910 gingerbread, built by Georges Baussan,
the architect of Haiti's presidential palace, were put on hold after the earthquake.
Schiele | House with Drying Laundry | 1917 | oil on canvas
The home of Vivian Gauthier, which survived the earthquake intact while
concrete structures crumbled around her; one of the few remaining family-inhabited
gingerbreads, in the Bois Verna neighborhood.
Beyond the heritage preservation, the gingerbread style encapsulates design
techniques that Olsen Jean Julien, former minister of culture and now project
manager for the Smithsonian Institution-back Haiti Cultural Recovery Project, sees
as a key to the country's reconstruction efforts. "The gingerbreads are a strong witness
of our history of the 20th century," Julien says. "Their architecture shows us that
people who built them had the memory of hurricanes and the first earthquake in 1770.
The respected seismic codes even before they had been written."
Schiele | Edge of Town (Krumau Town Cresent III) | 1918 | oil on canvas
Clockwise from top | A view of Gauthier's salon; a rundown gingerbread now part
of a secondary school, though its classrooms are no longer in use; vendors fill the roads
near the Iron Market, in Centre Ville, Port-au-Prince's commercial district.
Schiele | Krumau Landscape (Town and River) | 1915/16 | oil on canvas
"Schiele's townscapes are compositionally poised between a symbolic
treatment and the more formal contrast of the cubic, geometrical architecture
and the colorful, organic shapes of the natural surroundings."