John McAslan + Partners rebuild an iconic symbol of Haitian community, culture and ambition
For well over a century, the Iron Market - Marché de Fer - in Port-au-Prince has been a bold symbol of Haiti's independence and ambition, serving as the focus of commercial life and community aspiration in the city. Fabricated in France by the celebrated engineers Baudet Donon & Cie, the Iron Market was originally conceived of as a railway station bound for Cairo, but ended up for unknown reasons in Port-au-Prince in 1889 where it has been a gathering place for millions of Haitians for 120 years. The market has survived two disastrous setbacks in recent years: a devastating fire in 2008 which destroyed the market's northern structure, and the cataclysmic earthquake that shattered Port-au-Prince at the beginning of 2010, severely damaging the central tower and part of the southern range.
It is estimated that up to 10% of Haiti's population engage in artisan activity for a living. The North Market, which was dedicated to artisanal wares, was out of commission for more than two years before the earthquake, taking a toll on the local economy and households of Haitian artisans left without a proper place to make a living. The South Market, which was subsequently damaged beyond occupation, was the venue where food stuffs, domestic products, and a medley of goods were sold. With their centre of commerce and livelihood in ruins artisans and vendors, constructed makeshift stalls consisting of goods hung on the perimeter fence of the destroyed market and laid on the surrounding streets sheltered beneath umbrellas. It was a testament to how crucial this place of trade is in the local community, and how the Iron Market is a focus of commercial life in Port-au-Prince -- even in its demise trade struggled on beside its ghost.
Working with the Municipality of Port-au-Prince, its advisors and private sponsors, John McAslan + Partners led a multi-disciplinary team which has resurrected the Iron Market within one year of the earthquake. The Market comprises two 35ft high covered spaces, each covering 25,000sqft, and linked by bridges to a 75ft high central pavilion with clocks facing east and west, and four towers carrying minaret-like structures. This original structure is composed of decorative cast-iron columns and trusses supporting a wrought-iron superstructure with raised, clerestorey roof. Its open lower section is surmounted by an arched and louvred facade; above it, shallow-pitched roofs are covered in corrugated metal. In collaboration with the Institute de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National (ISPAN) - Haiti's heritage guardians - and the Iron Market's Director, Jeune Augustin, John McAslan + Partners led a design team that carried out detailed damage assessment, made the remaining structural elements safe, assessed what could be salvaged, and then set out a comprehensive repair and rebuilding strategy. Key issues included structural dismantling, paint analysis and research into original 19th century materials such as the stone flooring, the roof tiles, and the clock - all of which originated in France. The project involved roof and gutter replacements, façade repair, and reinstatement of the market's brick perimeter walls and floor slabs.
The structure of the Iron Market posed unusual problems, notably in the repair of the central pavilion, which had been both tipped and twisted off its stone plinth when the (later added) upper level concrete deck linking the two market halls collapsed. The upper part of the central pavilion consisting of four octagonal corner towers made of quarter-inch thick riveted and bolted iron plates, rested on badly twisted and corroded sections. They were temporarily anchored with concrete "galoshes" to prevent sudden collapse during restoration.
The JMP team designed new foundations for the central pavilion; re-created the lower parts of the tower that were beyond repair; and dismantled and repaired the damaged end of the South Market, using iron sections from the collapsed and burned-out North Market where possible. The North Market has been rebuilt in its entirety, using contemporary steel sections. The scale and rhythms of the new structure match the original - with its new façades decorated by local artists.
It was not merely an architectural restoration; it was one of the first signs that Haiti's economic communities could be rebuilt. The reconstruction of the Iron Market brought both the return of everyday trading and investment in the people of Haiti by way of employment within construction, metalwork, and artisan activity for non-vendor members of the community. The process of repair and reconstruction included conservation or repair of key historic details, using original salvaged materials wherever possible. Renewal involved hundreds of artisans, artists, and site work force in tasks such as conservation of the ironwork, decorative metalwork, stone dressing, and bricklaying. Workers learned a new range of skills: conservation techniques, including the salvaging of original brickwork and stone flooring, which will be applicable to the rebuilding of Haiti.
Amongst Haitian artisans there is a tradition of metalworking which has been done manually on 3mm sheet metal reclaimed from oil drums in order to decorate the new North Market, laser cutters were purchased and Arts et Artisan, the contracted artists and metalworkers for the reconstruction, trained local metalworkers to use the tools on 1/4 inch steel enabling them to enhance their art form as well as translate it into a skill useful on construction sites.
The reconstruction was carried out to accepted international standards in a country without any recognised building codes system. Health and safety was a priority onsite which taught local workers how to reduce risk of injury in modest conditions during future rebuilding.
Not just the artisans benefit from improved trading conditions in the renewed Iron Market. JMP duly carried out a survey of its past and potential uses in reconstructing and modifying the market. Always designed to protect vendors and customers from the heat of Haiti by the incorporation of louvred façades and brise soleil canopies, JMP sought to augment the Iron Market's comfort levels in ways both sustainable and easily maintained by local residents. For example, via fans and photovoltaics which avoid dependence on the unreliable grid as well as expensive generators and cooling systems. Elements such as poor drainage which proved problematic in the past were designed for easy maintenance.
The Iron Market is now fully back in use for over 700 vendors utilising market stalls designed by John McAslan + Partners, and commercial life thrives again. Within its interior, Haitian culture perseveres through the return of the Voodoo Alley, arts, crafts, goods and food. Beyond the market, the reconstruction has given local people new skills which can be their means of being proactive in the reconstruction of their country and supporting households. The resurrected Iron Market marks the beginning of normal life and is a symbol of hope for Haiti's future, forming the cornerstone of a city centre on its return.