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Puerto Rican team wins design competition for Haitian Cathedral

In the winning design for rebuilding the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, the familiar rose-window façade of the original welcomes worshippers to an outdoor garden.

But the plan to rebuild the church devastated by the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, veers from the original with a new, circular building that wraps around a central altar, accented by local art, with retractable walls that open to the garden for special occasions.

The first-place plan, chosen by a panel of six professionals at the University of Miami School of Architecture, was announced Thursday. Architects from all over the world collaborated to submit 134 entries, which were narrowed down to five finalists.

The winning design — a modern interpretation of the traditional architecture of a cathedral — was submitted by Segundo Cardona and a team of six other architects from Puerto Rico. Cardona’s other significant works include the Coliseum of San Juan and the Puerto Rico Pavilion built for the 1992 World Expo in Seville, Spain.

“The panel unanimously agreed that the final choice is memorable, elegant and dignified, yet welcoming to the greater community of Port-au-Prince and those who visit,” said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the UM School of Architecture. She said the design has elements of “looking to the past, but also looking forward to the future.”

As with any design competition, the final product will not follow the winning design exactly, and back-and-forth with the client — in this case the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince — is expected.

Cardona and his team will receive a cash prize of $12,000.

A group of Mexican architects led by Diego Ramos won the second-place prize of $8,000. Seven Miami-based architects under the direction of Steven Fett, an adjunct faculty member at the UM School of Architecture, won third place and $5,000.

Eleven different designs for the cathedral will be displayed through January at the UM school and then sent to the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami.

Plater-Zyberk said the first-place plan has elements of “restoration and preservation” by keeping the front façade of the original cathedral that was not destroyed in the earthquake. She described the new structure, to be built to the east of the old footprint, as “very much of our time, but also in some sense timeless.”

The plan calls for a cathedral that will seat 1,200 people with overflow room for 600.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said money still needs to be raised to build the cathedral because most of the $100 million collected by the Catholic Church in the United States after the earthquake went to humanitarian aid and other church-development projects.

Rebuilding the cathedral, while of symbolic importance in downtown Port-au-Prince, has not been a priority in the massive reconstruction efforts that are still limping along almost three years after the earthquake.

“I think there was an idea of making a space of remembrance,” Plater-Zyberk said. “There is not a sense of dwelling on the misfortune or the tragedy as much as remembering, and that out of such tragedy something new and good arises.”