Traditionally known as the "Paris of the Antilles", Cap-Haïtien is one of the older settlements of the New World as Christopher Columbus himself landed nearby during his 1492 voyage. It occupies a prime strategic location on the northern coast of Haiti and is known for it's wealth of beautiful French colonial architecture. The long history of "The North" of Haïti is also home to an anti-establishment culture that led to a the slave revolution and eventually birthed the independent republic of Haïti in 1804—the only nation in the world to be born of a successful slave revolt.
Unfortunately, hard times have fallen since Haïti's glorious past but recent initiatives have sought to preserve & restore the rich architectural heritage. Specifically, within "The North" of Haïti, the stunning mountaintop Citadelle Laferrière
and the grandiose ruins of the Palais Sans-Souci
have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
and have attracted the attention of the World Monuments Fund
amongst others. At a more modest scale, the Alliance Française
—a private cultural institution dedicated to the promotion of French language & culture—hired the office of Xavier David to restore a colonial era building as the base of their operations in Cap-Haïtien's old town.
A mere four city blocks from the waterfront of Cap-Haïtien's historic port—once a lucrative hub of the international trade of sugar, coffee and African slaves—the building occupying a block of Rue 15 (stretching the full length from Rue B to Rue D) was once a warehouse on the lower floor with apartment-like residences upstairs, quite typical of the era. Today, the local chapter of Alliance Française
—while already making use of the old building—is in the midst of a total renovation to adaptively re-use it as a modern outlet for cultural exchange. The ambitious program includes a multi-faceted mix of classrooms, offices, theatre, dancehall, library and accomodation for artists-in-residence. There are even plans for a public café occupying the corner of Rue 15 & Rue B to enliven the neighborhood conversation.
Design suggestions from Xavier David are highlighted by selective demolitions which provide better access to the courtyard. The vertical circulation was also reconfigured by replacing the staircases and the formerly underutilized attic space has been appropriated as suites to host artists-in-residence. Furnishings, fixtures and architectural details (handrails, window louvres, etc.) are also to be refurbished in order to present the Alliance Française with an appearance suitably matched to its noble mission of cultural exchange.