Thu | Oct 1, 2020

Patricia Green | Cornwall: It's the maintenance, not the design

Published:Tuesday | May 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

You may be wondering if there is anything good about the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH).

The CRH opened around 1974. The Architects Collaborative (TAC) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, designed the hospital. It became the largest dedicated architectural practice in the United States with more than 380 employees at its peak in the 1970s. Opened in 1945, after seven young architects invited Bauhaus founder, German architect Walter Gropius, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, to join them, they created what became an experiment in a collaborative process and pioneering methodologies, with shared humanitarian goals about changing the world through great design and a modernist aesthetic. The firm, sometimes called The Cambridge School, led the profession of architecture in many ways until it closed in 1995.

Whether in Europe, North America or Asia, international standards emerged for hospital architecture typology, and within Jamaican and Caribbean stands an international TAC icon of tropical architecture of the modern movement epitomising a peak in architectural design and technological innovation of its time.




CRH is of universal significance, and the Jamaica Institute of Architects desires it listed as modern heritage by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

The project had local representatives from architectural firm Chalmers Gibbs & Associates. By June 1971, The Gleaner reported that the 470-bed CRH had reached the 10th floor, and listed additional consultancy services by structural engineer Paul Weidlinger, and New York mechanical engineer Guy B. Panero Inc. Contractors Higgs and Hill (Jamaica) Limited hoped for project completion by the middle of 1972 despite frequent and prolonged labour disruptions that led to the work being behind schedule.

Constructed of the highest-quality fair-faced concrete detaining with plenty natural ventilation and natural light, the building is a split level, with cut-stone embankments and retaining walls set out to optimise site slopes and levels. Banks of wooden cedar louvre windows and balconies serve for both social and tropical references throughout. Doors and door frames are cedar and mahogany; the same applies to cupboards and shelving. Much of the furniture was designed by the architectural team, and some of these should be inside the National Gallery.


Great Boiler System


Boilers are an essential part of hospitals, primarily to provide steam for equipment sterilisation and hot-water heating. At CRH, creative design integrated its boiler into the central air condition as an 'absorption refrigeration system', specifying high velocity with smaller ducts. The architects placed this boiler room on the first floor/semi-basement level inside the building, which allowed economic short runs for the efficiency of its integrated air-conditioning system.

The ceilings of the boiler room were coated with insulation material to prevent heat gain on the floors above. Further lowering of heat transmission was achieved by the third floor acting as an open breeze way and climatic corridor to buffer transmission into people zones.

Lifespan of electrical accessories and central air conditioners is seven to 15 years; interior paint 10-15 years; chimney flue and cap, 10-40 years; roof membrane, 15-20; hollow-core doors and suspended ceilings, 20-30; boiler, 40 years; blown-in insulation, both fibreglass and cellulose, 15 years - but when affected by moisture through condensation or other means, it will require replacement.

Recognising material lifespans, in 1992, about 18 years after opening, Higgs and Hill won another contract of 2.5 million pounds to carry out expansion at CRH and primarily overhauled the air-conditioning system that had far exceeded its lifespan.

The issues at CRH exist because building materials and equipment inside its good architecture have served their lifespan, then died a natural death without essential and expected ongoing maintenance to replace and upgrade.

- Patricia Green, PhD, is head of the Caribbean School of Architecture, UTech. Email feedback to and