Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Landscape Architecture


Landscape Architecture

Major Professor

Kenneth McCown

Committee Members

John M. McRae, Joanne Logan


A growing movement in the design fields toward humanitarian and socially conscious work expressed itself in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2010. However, humanitarian work begets skepticism. Four to five decades of foreign aid have not lifted the country out of its impoverished state. Common critique emphasizes the importance of cultural appropriateness, but this is difficult to achieve at a time when much help must come from abroad.

Cultural anthropologists are experts in the study of cultural appropriateness. It is this discipline, and its methods, to which designers should turn for lessons on appropriateness. Landscape architects are in a unique position to help resolve friction between human industries and limited natural resources in Haiti. Being a “jack-of-all-trades,” a landscape architect is accustomed to borrowing methods from diverse disciplines and should, therefore, be capable of implementing anthropological tools. In this thesis I explore the benefits of incorporating participant observation into the design process as a method to create cultural appropriateness. Water resource management in Haiti is inherently linked to economic and social conditions, including poverty, community health, and education. Projects seeking to solve natural resources issues have achieved limited success because they have not addressed such interrelated issues. An integrated approach to water resources serves as an opportunity to test out the effectiveness of using participant observation to promote appropriate design because it allows the researcher to address a wide range of issues.

This design consists of a system that addresses water resources and critical related issues through both material and cultural means. The product of the thesis can be considered a framework integrating physical water resources development as well as personal and communal development in the areas of health, education, and collective pride. The design of this system uses a multi-functional rainwater harvesting system to build collective agency and empowerment by its distribution and development through an annual academic competition. The design will improve the long-term water security of the Fond-des-Blancs region and beyond, in turn improving the capacity for rural Haiti to participate in the much-needed decentralization of the country.

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