Photographer: Randolph Langenbach/World Monuments Fund
Feb 05, 2020

Haiti’s distinctive buildings that have withstood time, weather and disaster

As the holiday season winds down and that late winter chill sets in, most of us are content to spend our free time at home. From the simple brownstones of New York to the ornate Gingerbread Houses of Port-au-Prince, the concept of home can vary greatly from person to person. Yet, a few qualities remain universal. Home is something everyone knows and everyone deserves.

For many of us, our homes are a reflection of ourselves. For some it’s a choice between form and function. The choice between an elaborate chalet to entertain family or a sturdy, simple cabin to outlast the winter months.

In Haiti, however, there exists an entire neighborhood of homes that are beautifully executed in both design and structure.

I, of course, speak of the architectural marvels mentioned in the beginning of this article- The Gingerbread Houses of Port-au-Prince. Added to the 2010 World Monuments Watch, these distinctive buildings have withstood time, weather and disaster for over a hundred years due to their unique construction. Built by three Haitian architects- Georges Baussan, Léon Mathon, and Joseph-Eugène Maximilien- these houses were inspired by florid European architecture, but were specifically designed to survive the Caribbean climate. So named the Gingerbread Houses for their Victorian-era style “gingerbread” trim, these beautiful structures continue to house both residents and businesses alike thanks to ongoing restoration and preservation efforts.

One such business is the Maison Gauthier. A dance school and residence once owned by the late Viviane Gauthier (1918-2017). A devoted preservationist herself, Gauthier believed that pieces of historical art, like the traditional dances she taught and her gingerbread home in Pétion-Ville, were worth saving. The ornate veranda that once served as her dance studio, along with the rest of the home, is now being restored to it’s former elegance to once again serve as a school for folkloric dance.

Whether it’s a weathered farmhouse or an elegant, centuries old mansion, the concept of home is something we all see differently, yet all innately understand. A place to rest, to replenish, to gather and most importantly, to preserve.

This vocabulary list will help you become familiar with your home in Haitian Creole.

Haitian Creole English
kay house
chanm-a-kouche bedroom
pyès

chanm

room
salon living room
sal-a-manje dining room
saldeben

twalèt

bathroom
twalèt toilet
kizin kitchen
biwo study
garaj garage
sousòl basement
kav cellar
grenye attic
balkon balcony
pòt door
tapi doormat
sonèt doorbell
bwat-o-lèt letter box
fenèt window
twati

tèt kay

roof
chemine chimney
eskalye staircase/stairs

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