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Rebuilding Haiti

Virginia Tech Student Wins Yéle Haiti Competition

August 26, 2010

By Tim McKeough

Virginia Tech architecture student Christopher Morgan has won an international competition to design the Yéle Music Studio in the Cité Soleil area of Port-au-Prince.

Launched last December, prior to the deadly January 12 earthquake, the competition invited students from around the globe to create a music facility that empowered a Haitian community. The Royal Institute of British Architects, along with architecture firm John McAslan + Partners and developer Allied London, sponsored the competition on behalf of Yéle Haiti, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean. The winner was announced in May.

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Image courtesy Christopher Morgan

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The brief asked entrants to design a 1,000-square-foot music studio that would contain recording and radio-production facilities, while also offering space for vocational training for at-risk youth in Cité Soleil, a poor and crime-ridden district. “There’s a strong cultural connection with music there, which I’m sure is why Wyclef Jean focused on a music studio, as opposed to other institutions, for sowing the seeds for development and change,” says Morgan. “I was trying to establish spaces that would encourage a community of music creation, as opposed to an isolated place where artists could go and record.”

Morgan’s award-winning design consists of two stacked, curved volumes with outdoor performance areas. The lower level contains a lobby, reception, and lounge area, and faces a building that houses Radio Boukman, a popular local station. The second floor features a recording studio and a stage that looks out toward a new amphitheater on the waterfront. “This connection with the local community really caught the spirit of what Yéle is all about,” Jean said in a statement, explaining why he and John McAslan selected the scheme as the winner.

Morgan, who is now entering his third year of Virginia Tech’s five-year bachelor of architecture program, completed the design as part of his second-year studio coursework. Of the 108 competition entries received, 22 came from students in a studio taught by Virginia Tech instructor Andrew Balster. “We were looking at how architecture can be a tool to transform countries,” he said, noting that he wanted to engage the students in an international competition that might lead to a real project. “That generated a lot of enthusiasm,” he adds.

The original call for entries said that Yéle Haiti would start work on the building as soon as feasible, but the project’s future is now uncertain given the devastation wrought by the January earthquake. “It’s disappointing, but obviously the conditions are such that it’s probably better to focus on rebuilding the most necessary institutions,” says Morgan. “But I think that this project represented a cultural effort to shape or change a devastated area. It’s not just about providing for people’s needs, but also giving them meaning.”

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