thinking insomniac vernelle noel architecture sketch

Building on the corner of Pembroke & New St. Port of Spain, Trinidad

The sketch above is of two buildings at the corner of Pembroke & New St. Port of Spain. The dialogue between the new on the left and the slightly old on the right made them both grab my attention. The juxtaposition of the old and new, made them both stand out.

Last night my close friend Kris (architect and planner) and I were talking…catching up… and the discussion went into the local architecture and construction scene. Here is a snippet of our conversation:

Kris: Everybody’s going moldings and Greek columns… to hell with ventilation blocks! When did we lose our way with the ventilation blocks, V? I guess when a/c became a common thing.

TI: Yep…. and ideas of privacy, thieves, people saying that the draft causing arthritis… and clients wanting it. However, is not just here. They want American looking architecture from the magazines…whether it works or not. It’s a culture that permeates, worldwide…

Kris: yup! Forget louvers, forget ventilation blocks, and welcome Greek columns (whether or not they are supporting anything!)

TI: See why architects are important..? or I should say…good architects…When people think all we do is draw plans…this is what happens.

As I was deciding which sketch to post today, the conversation kept beating me. While examining the sketch above, the windows, the character, the scale, the roofs, and all the elements that reminded me of this Tropical/ Caribbean region, stood out. My question was, where are they now?

Some persons do think that all we architects do are draw expensive plans. I was a drafts-person for 5 years before leaving for school. In school I realized how much of architecture was about everything else but drawing plans. It included lengthy and arduous studies on energy, public issues, the environment, history, design, research, physics, and so much more. “Plans” are but a fragment of what we do. Architecture is a profession because the judgments of architects benefit – or if incompetently exercised, endanger – the public good (The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice).

The truth is architects and planners are generally disrespected in the Caribbean, resulting in costly problems in our built environment. Constant public information and education on the roles and responsibilities of these professions are important. As architects and planners we aim to educate citizens, politicians and others who affect change, on the significance of our roles.

Who is an architect?
The UIA Accord defines an architect as one who “is professionally and academically qualified and generally registered/licensed/certified to practice architecture in the jurisdiction in which he or she practices and is responsible for advocating the fair and sustainable development, welfare, and the cultural expression of society’s habitat in terms of space, forms, and historical context.”

You will notice it says nothing about drawings in the definition.

What services do architects provide?
“Architects see the big picture when it comes to your project. They help you explore what appeals to you aesthetically and what you require functionally. They coordinate teams of design, engineering and construction professionals; they sort through the maze of building codes and zoning requirements; they ensure your project is built the way it was intended.” (The American institute of Architects).

What Do Planners Do?
Professional planners help create a broad vision for the community. They also research, design, and develop programs; lead public processes; effect social change; perform technical analyses; manage; and educate. Planners develop a plan through analysis of data and identification of goals for the community or the project. They help the community and its various groups identify their goals and form a particular vision.

It is important to recognize that a plan can take a variety of forms including: policy recommendations, community action plans, comprehensive plans, neighborhood plans, regulatory and incentive strategies, or historic preservation plans. Other examples of plans include: redevelopment plans, smart growth strategies, economic development strategic plans, site plans, and disaster preparedness plans. (The American Planning Association).

Globalization is here to stay, but it affords regions the wonderful opportunity to promote their unique, distinct geographical area…one guided by locality and climate. The “faux fancy” work as Kris called it is symptomatic of the lack of information, and misinformation about what we as architects and planners do. The client architect/ planner relationship should be one where both parties learn from each other. Architecture & Planning should be informed by our region, climate, culture, and techniques.

Here are three great articles on Caribbean Architecture:

Modern Architecture in Trinidad & Tobago – Informed by local architectural traditions, or not? >>

House of Spices: The Myriad Origins of the Trinidadian Gingerbread House >>

Plantation Architecture >>

Creative Commons License
This work by Vernelle Noel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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