With a goal to give hope back to a community that is still trying to rebuild, Virginia Tech architecture student Christopher Morgan has won an international competition to design a music studio for one of Haiti’s neighborhoods.
The competition challenged young architects from around the world to design a 1,000 sq. ft. music studio in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that would combine music recording and radio programming with vocational training, micro-enterprise opportunities and job creation for at-risk youth in the area.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) launched the competition on behalf of Yéle Haiti, a charity founded by Grammy award-winning musician, record producer and native Haitian, Wyclef Jean, and was sponsored by architectural firm John McAslan & Partners, and Allied London, a property development and investment company.
Morgan’s proposal brings together back-to-back amphitheaters that are stacked on top of each other, with one opening towards an adjacent park and waterfront, and the other facing the front of station Radio Boukman, an important hub for community. The result is an open and inviting space that engages the community.
“The project is about involvement; a place that was inclusive and not exclusive,” said Morgan.
“The building is not just a place for musicians or a place trying to create musicians, but a place for the people of Cité Soleil as a community, to create a world of music”.
The devastation caused by the earthquake in January prompted organizers to refocus the competition as an ‘ideas’ competition and has put the realization of the design on hold. John McAslan, chairman of John McAslan & Partners, said, “It may be sometime before we can realize the potential of a project such as this, while the city recovers from immediate destruction that has occurred. However, we hope that our project inspires others to believe that anything is possible.”
Morgan is disappointed that the project is currently on hold, but obviously understands the severe circumstances and remains hopeful. “I would urge Yéle Haiti to consider projects like this as a part of the rebuilding taking place over the next decades” Morgan said.
In announcing the competition winners, RIBA officials wrote that Morgan’s winning design, ‘Broadcast Studio,’ “reaches into the spirit of the Haitian people and aims to empower the people of Cité Soleil with the opportunity to make music with life.” Jean praised Morgan’s work. “The winning design was able to engage the community by incorporating an outdoor performance space,” Jean said. “This connection with the local community really caught the spirit of what Yéle is all about.”
Morgan, of Purcellville, Va., entered the competition as a part of his second-semester studio class taught by Andrew Balster, a visiting professor in the School of Architecture & Design. Balster incorporated the competition into the curriculum in order to encourage students to produce solutions to real problems and use architecture as a tool to reach those solutions. Morgan and his classmates researched every aspect of the site in order to understand the social and physical conditions that would play a part in their design concepts.
“Especially after the earthquake, the students felt like they had a chance to really make an impact,” said Balster. “It wasn’t just another project; we weren’t just donating money, we were donating manpower.”
“Chris’ design works as a point of optimism for Cite Soleil. The idea for the design is inspired by the community and then, in turn, gives something back to the community,” Balster said. “I think that pure optimism for what architecture could be is the main reason he won.”
High school, undergraduate and graduate students from around the world submitted a total of 108 designs, with 22 of them from Balster’s class. Fifteen submissions were selected by a technical jury based on criteria, including ability to act as a beacon for the local neighborhood; to deliver ‘a lot’ for a limited budget; and for economic, social and environmental sustainability. Wyclef Jean and his team, and John McAslan selected the first, second and third placeholders.
Yéle Haiti was initiated by Wyclef Jean in 2005. The foundation is a grassroots movement that aims to raise global awareness for Haiti and transform the country through the regeneration of forgotten neighborhoods and programs in education, sports, the arts and environment.
Written by Katie Runge of Baltimore, Md. Runge, received a bachelor's degree in communication in 2010 from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.