Over the course of the thirteen days spent in Haiti, the Haiti Summer Studio 2014 group traveled to multiple locations and saw a wide range of urban and rural conditions. We arrived in Port-au-Prince on June 8th and remained in the city until June 11th. While in the capital we were able to visit the Université GOC administration building currently under construction, tour a digital learning center, enjoy lunch at a mountain top restaurant with spectacular views, and tour the city by bus and on foot. Our group also traveled to the new Université GOC campus outside of Port-au-Prince and spent an afternoon conversing, drawing, and learning with students studying architecture there. After our stay in the capital, the group departed on June 11th for the town of Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes, making a stop in Léogâne to visit a maternity hospital, Kay Fanm Yo, designed by U of I Professor Mark Taylor. We remained in Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes for six days and returned to Port-au-Prince on June 17th. During our stay in the coastal town we met with engineers, a group of pastors from the region surrounding the town, and the Mayor. Also during our stay, group members ate meals at the local solar bakery, spent time with Université GOC students, visited a fishing village in Miragoâne, experienced a street festival, and explored the core of the town and more rural farmlands on foot. The group absorbed and recorded the town through many hours of sketching, water color painting, systematically mapping and documenting the physical environment, and interacting with citizens.

Returning to Port-au-Prince on June 17th, we traveled to a mountain village in the Fonds-Verrettes Commune. After a few hours in four-wheel-drive vehicles, we were greeted by an entire schoolhouse full of children, and were introduced to local farming practices. After a lunch at their solar bakery, we returned to the Capital. June 19th was spent exploring street markets in Port-au-Prince and listening to a talk by Patrick Delatour, Howard University Alumnus, former minister of tourism, and now chair of the Haitian Presidential Commission for Reconstruction. A dinner discussion with Jason Krumm of MSAADA Architects followed Patrick Delatour’s presentation. Our last full day in Haiti was spent visiting the Iron Market of Port-au-Prince, and concluded with a farewell banquet with Université GOC students. The Haiti Summer Studio 2014 group departed Haiti on June 21st and returned to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Upon returning to campus students stopped to reflect on their individual and group experiences before beginning to analyze the information collected and launching into environmental planning and architectural design activities.


Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes, a town located on the north coast of the Tiburon Peninsula, supports a population of about 32,000. With the improvement of highway Route 21 having reached the edge of town in the spring of 2014, the built fabric of structures and transportation infrastructure have recently expanded, and the coastline continues to develop westward, apace with highway improvements. The urban fabric of the town is comprised of a main strip of development along Route 21. One intersecting unpaved road, mainly flanked by small houses, leads south towards the mountains. Small farms and residences can be found to the south of this central strip, while to the north the ocean is ever present. A few smaller tracks run parallel to Route 21, but these dirt and gravel paths resemble small alleys leading to buildings set back from the road.

The inability of existing infrastructure to support current and future development was evident upon our initial walk through the town. Storm drains, on either side of the highway, were uncovered and filled with debris, garbage, and stagnant water. There were no streetlights and in the few areas where sidewalks existed, they were often overrun by street vendors. located in the main town area were two main public spaces: a large plaza and stage near the civic buildings, and a smaller empty plaza, supported public gathering. After observing, measuring and further documenting the buildings creating Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes’ central development swatch, we discovered the majority of the structures were residential, with retail and commercial being the second most prevalent. In many cases, businesses and residences shared the same structure. We saw several education buildings, including schools and learning centers. The few public buildings in town were mostly churches; a small cluster of government buildings was located near the center of town.


Throughout the trip, students and professors engaged in many forms of documentation. One of the main goals for the studio was to instill a sense of awareness, discovery and empathy through sketching and watercolor painting. During our time in Haiti, each student worked at these skills and found that it truly helped them to understand the place and the people as well as the objects and scenes they were observing. In addition to sketching, students were also asked to keep a written journal during our trip. These journals, including both structured and unstructured writing and sketching, provided students another way to document their travels, and to reflect on their experiences.

Specific documentation techniques and structured activities were extremely important while the group was in Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes. With only six days to develop an understanding of the community and identify and understand projects that might facilitate social and physical change and development, it was essential for students to document the conditions and understand them. Through sketching and watercolor painting students gained a sense of the place. To understand the physical condition of the town, students broke themselves into teams and documented the town on foot. By hand drawing maps to locate and categorize buildings they gained an understanding of the physical tapestry of the town. In addition to this, our group met with local engineers, pastors, and the mayor to learn what they felt was needed. While walking through the town, we also spoke with the citizens themselves to hear their stories and opinions.


The two weeks spent in Haiti offered planned meetings and chance encounters with many significant people, providing the team important insights and information. The mayor of Petite-Rivière-De-Nippes, engineers working with the government on infrastructure projects, notable community members, and pastors from various villages in the commune delivered information valuable in supplementing the various methods of documentation simultaneously conducted by the students. During the time in Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes, a group of three engineers met with the Haiti Challenge team and provided a planning document, The Plan for Development and Investment for the Commune of Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes (The Plan) , from the Haitian government. The team also asked the engineers questions regarding possible site locations for projects mentioned in The Plan and gathered information regarding the government’s prioritization of projects. The team then met and talked with 16 pastors from churches across the commune. They offered first hand perspectives on pressing community issues. Haiti’s agricultural changes and lack of educational opportunities were a core concern.

Through the one-week field documentation process, students met with various local residents, farmers, crafts people, unemployed adults, and scores of children on the street and beaches. Each brought a personal perspective on concerns like basic sanitation, lack of water for irrigation, and limited skilled labor to aid with simple construction. After meetings with pastors, engineers and residents in Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes, the group had a better understanding of the daily conditions and issues that the people were facing. A later meeting with the mayor brought these into sharper focus. He showed considerable interest and enthusiasm for the possibility of receiving ideas and assistance to alleviate community concerns. After these many discussions highlighting community concerns, the group sought ideas for possible solutions. Mr. Jason Krumm, part of a team of architects and aid workers building schools in Haitian communities, helped the team understand effective methods to communicate ideas to local Haitian people.

Mr. Krumm also presented appropriate methods of construction and project case studies, offering new insights to the team. When Mr. Patrick Delatour met with the team, he provided new perspectives on the situation in Haiti before the devastating 2010 earthquake and explained how the quake halted numerous proposed national improvement projects. An informative and energetic discussion with Mr. Delatour gave the students an understanding of the wide range of projects planned for Haiti and how they might be implemented given the changing social and political contexts.

Existing Structures

The town of Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes has several nodes of critical importance for understanding how it functions. Two important sites, one a High School that was set up by the American Haitian Foundation, the other a dairy co-op recently constructed, bound the stretch of development along route 21. The school is still educating students of the town and nearby towns, while the dairy co-op was not in operation due to lack of funding. The site is still viable for future use as a dairy. Between these prominent end points, the town’s physical fabric was a dense neighborhood filled with commercial activity interspersed with a few civic nodes. These were mainly the Civic Plaza surrounded by the Mayors home and office and a new English and vocational school. The plaza was the only open, outdoor space the town utilized for public gatherings and hence was of great importance. A few hundred feet west of this same plaza, the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua and its small elementary school were similarly prominent civic places. Each of these is clearly a meaningful part of the townscape.

The town also supports two hotels that provide lodging for tourists, missionaries and aid workers from around the world. These are located at the two limits of the town on route 21. The largest hotel, the Manollo Inn, has 21 rooms with air conditioning, a pool and good local food. There is another location of essential importance to the town, the Visitation Hospital, a project to create a rural hospital and clinic for the Department of De-Nippes. Opened in January of 2008, the clinic has served the department well with its innovative structure, energy efficient building, as well as first-rate medical services.

The adjacent figure ground map provides a clear indication of the town’s concentrated building density, surrounded by large expanses of farmland to the south and the vast Caribbean ocean to the north.

Possible Projects

Throughout the town of Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes many possible projects might be considered to support increased well-being of citizens. Through conversations with local residents, our eyes were opened to the multitude of possible solutions that we might propose. Before the earthquake of 2010, small amounts of funding were made available to the country’s departments to help improve infrastructure within communities. The mayor of Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes was in possession of the development plan and investment program for the commune. The Plan listed the projects planned in this community and those that were needed to support appropriate growth of the town.

The graphic on the adjacent page seeks to link the benefits of the possible projects outlined in the report. This graphic is intended to illustrate the understanding that in a town of this type, small interventions could realize large ripple effects. Reflections on the various discussions during our time in Haiti, with the many partners involved, helped the group focus on specific projects. Students in the Haiti Summer Studio 2014 then tackled these projects in the five short weeks remaining in the summer term, after returning to the Urbana, Illinois campus. We attempted to set realistic goals for ourselves, while at the same time considering those projects with the greatest possible long-term benefit and the largest growth potential for Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes. The outcome included an overall physical plan for the community that sought to understand the possibilities of various growth scenarios, as well as three building-scale projects. The first of these is a town market for the sale and vending of fruits, vegetables, and essential items. This is a highly evident need for the town that had been proposed by the municipality. However, in visiting and reflecting on the proposed site outside of town, the group felt it was important that a successful market be located within the town center to concentrate commercial activity there and to avoid future development sprawl. The next project addressed was a farmers’ co-operative. This venture could support the collection, sale, and distribution of produce from local farmers, and also educate citizens on cultivation and newer farming methods, thus bolstering the economics as well as efficiency of local farming. The final project that the studio would address was a media center. MOM currently has a partner church in town that is willing to help run this center. Such a center will enable distance education, that helps increase literacy and global education to which a small town like Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes would not otherwise have access. The decision to help program and design the above projects led to the need for larger scale planning scenarios. An urban plan for Petite-Rivière-de-Nippes was contemplated as part of the report provided to our group by the Mayor, but had never reached fruition. This led to the fourth project that the Haiti Summer Studio 2014 took on, scenario planning for the town.


Eric Wayne Ellis
ACSA, Senior Director of Operations & Programs