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9462: Architects leave room for culture (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Architects leave room for culture

By Paula F. Niņo
Miami News Service

November 4, 2001

Before launching a contest to solicit designs for a new housing project in 
Little Haiti, a neighborhood association asked residents for input.

On the wish list were fruit trees in landscaping, lots of storage room and a 
large back yard for outdoor activities, said Jacques St. Louis, director of 
Housing Consultation at the Little Haiti Housing Association.

But topping the list was a request that was both practical and cultural, he 
said: The kitchen was not to be next to the dining room.

In Haiti, many homes have a separate area where cooking can be done with 
charcoal or wood, sometimes in a cement oven, sometimes outside. 
Middle-class and more affluent families will also have a modern kitchen, 
though poorer families may not.

Even a modern kitchen is kept distinctly separate from the dining room, so 
homes offering kitchen-dining room combinations could be cultural turnoffs, 
St. Louis said.

With those concepts in mind, architects submitted a total of 40 entries in 
the housing association's first international architectural design 
competition, which ended Sept. 21.

Architects were asked to create an innovative design flexible enough to be 
built on 23 long, narrow or shallow lots donated by the city of Miami, said 
Nathaniel Belcher, an assistant professor at the Florida International 
University School of Architecture, which co-sponsored the competition.

The sites, all on empty lots, are scattered throughout the Little Haiti 
area, which is bordered by Northeast 86th Street to the north, Interstate 
195 on the south, I-95 on the west and Biscayne Boulevard on the east.

Competition requirements called for three- or four-bedroom models that would 
cost less than $80,000 or $65 per square foot. In addition, the designs had 
to meet the cultural needs of Little Haiti residents.

"Haitian culture is very family-centered, and the home is a stage for that 
image," said Ramon Santos, part of the first-prize winning team. "You just 
don't look at your house as an investment that you're going to sell in two 

The first-place entry along with 12 other winning designs is on exhibit 
through Nov. 25 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. The 
exhibit is titled "Scattered Houses."

Santos, from Alexandria, Va., and Ruben Santos, of San Francisco, have been 
friends since 1991 and submitted a design that features a long, narrow house 
with a front porch facing the street. All of the rooms in the house are one 
side of the lot, which creates an enclosed yard. The dining room and kitchen 
are separated.

To meet cultural requirements, the team did a little research. Ruben Santos 
examined images of Haitian architecture and Ramon Santos spoke to people who 
had lived in Haiti.

Cultural preservation is a new approach for the Little Haiti Housing 
Association, said Sam Diller, the association's deputy director. Before the 
project, most of the work that had been done in the area revolved around 
electrical and plumbing upgrades and bringing everything up to code, he 

The housing association has sold about 60 remodeled homes to date, Diller 
said. With the association's help, families with a $13,000 to $14,000 
household income can qualify for affordable housing.

Leomene Pierre is one of the Little Haiti residents who has benefited.

"Before, I used to live with three children in one bedroom, so this has 
really helped," said Pierre, who has owned a three-bedroom house since 1994 
and is an LHHA staff member.

Part of the association's mission, Diller added, is to provide affordable 
housing and to move people from rental to home ownership.

"When you have a tenant population, there is no vested interest in seeing 
the community improve," Diller said. Little Haiti is 75 percent renter 
occupied, he added.

The association won't build a house until it has been purchased, and has 
begun marketing the scattered houses to prospective homeowners. Residents 
interested in purchasing a home must meet requirements and then go through a 
six-week Home Ownership Training course taught in Creole. Future homeowners 
are taught about mortgages, good credit and home maintenance.

Groundbreaking for the new homes is scheduled for January. The idea is to 
build the houses in phases, said Diller, building approximately seven houses 
each year.

The association is working with Belcher to develop the Reclamation Community 
Garden, a partnership between Belcher, the association and Operation Green 
Leaves Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster 
environmental awareness.

The community garden would allow residents to grow their own food and to 
hold educational environmental programs, Belcher said.

The Intel Corp. also has selected the association to sponsor a computer 
clubhouse in the community.

"Some other organizations just do housing," Diller said. "We like to think 
that we fully grasp the whole concept of community development."

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