Le Moniteur des Travaux Publics et du Bâtiment Journal n° 6009-60010

Article written by Marie-Douce Albert


Diplomatic circle in a Haitian garden


Reconstruction –

Following severe damage caused by the earthquake in January 2010, the French Embassy has had to be rebuilt.

On a December morning in 2010, the five teams of architects visiting the site of the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince discovered “emptiness in a magnificent place, a large garden full of magical greenery”, as Benoît Le Thierry d’Ennequin from the Explorations Architecture agency described. Several months before, on January 12th, a violent earthquake hit Haiti and caused the death of over 300 000 people. Numerous buildings collapsed in the devastated capital, and notably the presidential palace. The nearby Hôtel Laroche, which had been the headquarters of French diplomacy since 1960, also suffered significant damage. The decision taken was therefore to tear down the Embassy, but above all to rebuild it. France chose to remain in this historical and working-class neighbourhood rather than move to areas deemed safer, as did other countries. In March 2011, the team led by Explorations won the contest with a project which gave prominence to the architecture as much as the landscape, redesigned by the D’ici là agency (Landscape Architect).

Colonnade motif.
Approximately eight years down the road, the garden of the French Embassy still seems magical. A white and gold ring stands in the centre of the tall preserved ficus and flamboyant trees, where the former house stood : a small building – 1200 m² net floor area – which in turn surrounds a cluster of palm trees. This round edifice resembles an antique rotunda, and its openings contribute to this illusion. The anti-intrusion grids made of expanded metal, which are actually more bronze-coloured than flashy golden, and perfectly aligned with the first floor openings, create a colonnade motif.
Such a surprising circular configuration in keeping with the first version of the project. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought to relocate numerous departments, which was an ambitious order. Explorations Architecture therefore drew a floor plan in three circles. « On this piece of land whose width is variable, the circular shape made it possible to include the elements of the programme smoothly, explained the architects Benoît Le Thierry d’Ennequin and Claudia Trovati, project managers during the planning period, and Marie Ferrari, who supervised the construction work. But at the time, the country was in ruins, and it was impossible to estimate the costs of the project. » The economic reality forced the Ministry to reduce its programme to the extent that a single circle is now sufficient in hosting the services of the Embassy and the Consulate on two levels. Furthermore, such a shape is well adapted for earthquake-resistant constructions. Indeed, regular and compact structures are more resistant to torsional effects.

The circular shape is better adapted to earthquake-resistant constructions.

« Conundrum ». «». « Besides, there are no second-rate offices in a circular building », assures Claudia Trovati. Having no blind spots means that the Embassy staff may enjoy beautiful views over the park, but also over the patio. This circle, around 5 m wide, contains floor-through offices which give straight onto the inner garden on the ground floor, or on the first floor, onto a passageway. « Organising the different spaces was a real conundrum », explain the architects. In this precisely arranged structure, the spaces located between each concrete wall, which rise up every six exterior bay windows, are adaptable. The different departments were therefore distributed according to a basic module of around 6 m² with a window. Each individual office therefore enjoys 13 m² and two windows over the park, while the ground-floor meeting room, which covers an entire space unit between two walls, measures 40 m². The simple modules are then exclusively used for photocopiers and other technical equipment.
In this sober building in dimensions as well as its absence of excessive pomp, the largest, and probably most beautiful room, is the central garden. « This patio is an integral part of the structure, emphasised the landscape architect Claire Trapenard, co-founder of the D’ici là agency. And it serves as the Embassy’s living room. »

See pictures here : Ronde diplomatique dans un jardin haïtien