Of the approximately 300,000 buildings in Haiti that were damaged during the January 2010 earthquake, the country’s historic gingerbread houses endured the disaster relatively well. In fact, researchers estimate than only 5 percent of these beloved buildings partially or fully collapsed.
As the country slowly rebuilds, lessons could be learned from these charismatic dwellings built more than a century ago. A report released this year by the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the World Monuments Fund (WMF) states that traditional Haitian construction—particularly braced timber framing and colombage, which features that same framing with masonry infill—withstood seismic loads far better than more recent structures made with rigid Portland cement. These findings were based on an April 2010 survey of approximately 200 gingerbread houses in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Bois Verna, Pacot, and Turgeau. The study was produced with support from the Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Fund and the Haitian organization Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL).