When the NGO Ayitimoun yo approached Milanese architect Bonaventura Visconti di Modrone to design and build an orphanage for an impoverished Haitian village, his friends warned him it would be a waste of time and money. Undeterred, Bonaventura went forward with the humanitarian project and, after a year, completed a safe, welcoming, and earthquake-resistant orphanage constructed with only local help and inspiration from local Haitian architecture. Constructed with handmade bricks and topped by a zigzagging roof, the handsome Ti Kay Là orphanage is “a space where [the children] could feel comfortable, protected, and part of a family again.”
Located in the Anse-à-Pitres village without running water or electricity, the Ti Kay Là project faced many construction challenges, from the lack of skilled labor and resources to communication and language barriers. Bonaventura oversaw a team of 40 local workers, who were taught how to make the anti-seismic foundation and bricks—Haiti sits atop the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system and is prone to earthquakes—using cement and sand laboriously sourced from the Dominican Republic. The use of local labor and materials whenever possible was a conscious decision to support the economy of Anse-à-Pitres.
Bonaventura based the 400-square-meter orphanage design on four main elements: the welfare of the children, local culture, structural safety, and economic impact on the local region. As a result, the orphanage features three different programmatic areas that include private space, semi-private space, and shared communal areas. Traditional local houses inspired the arrangement of the homes and the double-pitched roof. In addition to the building’s anti-seismic properties, the orphanage is also elevated to avoid the risk of floods. Solar shading, large windows, and the raised sawtooth timber roof allow for natural ventilation and minimize unwanted solar gain to keep the building naturally cool.
Ti Kay Là provides housing for around 30 previously homeless children in three brick dormitories connected by verandas. “During the construction, to increase the children’s sense of belonging to their future houses, small workshops were organized where the children could propose or choose some details like the pattern and colors of the concrete platform,” writes the architect. The project took over a year to build on a budget of just €60,000.
Images via Ti Kay Là