One of the real advantages of staying at the Marriott Port-au-Prince is its location right in the heart of Haiti’s capital city. If you’re in town on business, as I frequently tend to be lately, there’s no easier access to the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements (CFI) and other government offices. For leisure visitors, primary attractions like the MUPANAH, Neg Mawon, and the Iron Market are also just a few blocks away.
In the course of exploring either leisure or business pursuits in the area, one particular landmark really stands out: Haiti’s National Palace… Or at least what’s left of it.
The latest of four different residences constructed for the various Heads of State who’ve held sway over Haiti over the centuries, the most recent National Palace was inaugurated in 1920, though its full story traces back eight years earlier. That’s when noted Haitian architect Georges Baussan’s design for the building placed second in a call for submissions that netted entries from many of the most prominent Haitian and French architects of the time.
So, how is it the Baussan’s second place design got to be built?
The palace design deemed the best carried a construction cost Haiti just couldn’t bear, so they opted for Baussan’s. This wasn’t the only strange twist in the storied palace’s history, though…
In 1915, barely a year into its construction, work on the National Palace was halted. A political insurrection aimed at toppling then-president Vilbrun Guillaume Sam left the partially-built palace partially destroyed. The 19-year period of U.S. occupation in Haiti would follow, with the Americans completing the National Palace’s construction.
The National Palace Baussan envisioned was truly stunning. Borrowing heavily from traditional French Renaissance architecture, it featured three doomed pavilions, four ionic columns supporting a pedimented portico, and a brilliant white paint job that glistened in the sun. Three separate wings extended from the rear of the building giving the Palace an “E” shape from above.
Larger than the U.S. White House, Haiti’s National Palace was, for nearly 100 years, one of the more impressive buildings in all of the West Indies.
Then came January 12, 2010… The earthquake… And the end of Haiti’s National Palace. (See lead photo above.) By 2012, the full structure had been demolished and the site cleared and fenced off.
Every time I drive or walk past the site of the former National Palace, I always wonder what’s coming next. Will they rebuild? When? Will the new Palace be as stunning as the last?
Now, it seems, the answers to these questions could be coming soon… Maybe even from you!
That’s right, the Haitian Government has launched an international contest inviting architects to once again submit plans for the construction of yet another National Palace. Current Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, laid out some of stipulations, saying:
The new National Palace must make the link between history, culture and the future of the nation. The realization of a work of this magnitude requires dialogue and communication with citizens to hear their opinions and develop their sense of ownership of all stages of reconstruction.
Fittingly ambitious for such a grand undertaking.
For full details on how you can submit your design for consideration, you’ll want to check out this pdf.
*Lead photo credit: United Nations Development Programme via Flickr.