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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/25/11

Haitian Winter, Part Six: Soaring into the Sun - the Grand New Iron Market

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A minaret of the resurrected Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. (Photo by Mac McKinney -all photos to follow are by Mac McKinney except those attributed to other sources.)

For Haiti, the rebuilding of this famed edifice has been yet another symbolic Phoenix-rising moment in its long history of struggle, suffering, defeat and victory:

Denis O'Brien, head of Digicel Group and giant philanthropist toward Haiti, as well as other Third World countries.

O'Brien, in typically Irish heart-felt fashion and passion for the underdog, has always had a special admiration for and desire to help the hard-luck Haitian people, so when the giant earthquake of January 12th, 2010 struck, he went into action with lightning speed, as Forbes Magazine noted in a recent article:

In many ways O'Brien personifies the Forbes ethos at its finest. He's a gutsy and shrewd businessman. An iconoclast who goes where few rivals dare to tread, who shuns a public listing and stays focused on building his company according to his own long-term vision.

As Forbes has previously written, O'Brien is an activist who gives back to the communities where he has a presence. He's made 20 trips to Haiti since it was devastated by an earthquake early last year and is building 50 schools in that impoverished nation. A separate pet cause involves supporting human rights activists around the world. (source)
Digicel in Haiti. Its name-brand is all over the place in Port-au-Prince.

But above and beyond building new schools, O'Brien's attention was immediately riveted on the wreaked Iron Market. Indeed, it had already seriously caught his eye, as noted from this NY Times article by Pooja Batia on Denis and the Iron Market.

Like so much of Haiti's architectural heritage, the Iron Market was in bad shape long before the earthquake. It had suffered for decades from lack of maintenance, and in May 2008, a fire devastated the north hall. A year and a half later, that section was still a jumble of detritus, barely shielded from scavengers by a brick wall. By then, it had attracted the attention of Mr. O'Brien and a London-based architect, John McAslan, who together had been batting around ideas for renovation projects with Haiti's historical preservation institution.

The earthquake came two months later. A concrete deck that had been added to the market years ago collapsed, killing several vendors. The force of the canopy's collapse also pulled down part of the southern hall and wrenched the tower and minarets over, as though they were prostrating themselves to the street.

But the quake galvanized Mr. O'Brien's interest and he moved quickly. According to the mayor of Port-au-Prince, Jean-Yves Jason, Mr. O'Brien proposed the project a week after the quake. (source)

"Quickly" is an understatement. Denis had immediately realized that because the Iron Market had traditionally been, to use his own words, "the economic and cultural fulcrum of the city." (ibid.), in other words, a national icon, that restoring it was essential to recovering a portion of national pride, not to mention raising the morale of Haitians everywhere. So O'Brien assembled a mighty task-force led by project manager George Howard and the architectural firm John McAslan and Partners that would work closely with Mayor Jason to accomplish this "Phoenix rising" feat of Irish magic, aided by a bit of Irish Green in the form of twelve million dollars out of his own pocket:

Within a few weeks, Mr. O'Brien had assembled a group of engineers, architects and managers. He also hung a big red placard on the site announcing a completion date: December 2010.

"An impossible target," said Mr. McAslan, who worked on the project. "Even in the States it would take three to five years." (ibid.)

Moreover, everyone was well-initiated into a deep understanding of the extent of destruction that Nature can inflict upon Haiti at any time in the form of hurricanes, sweltering heat and/or earthquakes, thus great pains were taken to not merely meet but exceed the international earthquake and hurricane codes, all in this slim window of time.

Crane truck parked between the wings

And no expense or effort was spared in restoring the classic design and artistry of the original Iron Market, as well as embellishing the interior of the new north and south halls adjacent to the minarets with indigenous Haitian art work and styles. Again to quote Pooja Batia:

Workers salvaged much from the ruins, including original bricks and cast-iron columns from the north hall. For the market halls' louvers, a Haitian artist, Philippe Dodard, designed cutouts based on the original 19th-century design and on symbols from Haiti's indigenous Taino population, casting delightful shadows on the market floor. Mr. Howard, the project manager, managed to get new tiles from a French company that bought the original tile manufacturer.

The most delicate parts of the renovation concerned the tower and minarets. Over the summer, they were disassembled, loaded onto flatbeds, and driven to the workshop Mr. Dodard runs with an engineer, Dimitri Craan, for renovation by local artisans. The cast-iron columns also ended up at Mr. Dodard's workshop, where a dozen specialists in cast-iron welding refurbished them for reinstallation in part of the south market that had collapsed. (ibid.)

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I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not (more...)
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