Reggae museum design should've been open to competition

Published: Tuesday | February 26, 2013 Comments 0

By Chris Whyms-Stone, Guest Columnist

I have never met Mr Michael Thompson, but have been a follower of his fine graphic works for some time. So like others with whom I have spoken, I, too, was surprised at his Gleaner article of Tuesday ('Gehry Reggae Museum - no insult intended', February 20, 2013).

I believe Ms Louise McLeod's concern in her Gleaner article ('Hall of Fame Museum', January 29, 2013) is the very fact that Jamaican culture is global. There is a concern that, though thinking big, Mr Thompson is thinking narrowly, seemingly overcome by passion for his Bob Marley of architecture, Frank Gehry. There are many buildings designed by Frank Gehry which we will never hear about. The reality is that well-designed buildings change cities all over the world.

Mr Thompson must answer why he bothered to have a poster design competition when a talented graphic designer like himself, or a world-famous graphic designer like Eddie Opara or Chip Kidd, could be asked to do one. Surely an auctioned poster designed by Famous Graphic Artist X could pull some attention and fund-raising proceeds to go towards a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum.

On the contrary, the decision to open a competition to celebrate the diversity, explore the opportunities and ultimately select the best design, was taken. That is the sort of big, wide thinking which reggae has come to represent.

There have been, for some time, plans to have a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum in Jamaica. For a long time, there was much indecision as to whether to build it on the glitzy north coast in order to benefit from the tourist enterprises or to build it in gritty Kingston where reggae was born and raised. I believe the correct decision to locate the museum in Kingston was taken, though the location in the capital city is still undecided.

Reggae is one of many Jamaican contributions to the world and has become part of the global culture. The history of reggae's precedents, founding and players has long been a culturally sought-after experience, both at the academic level and in the streets. That the music, whose spiritual origin in praising the gospel of Rastafari continues to remain locally and internationally relevant, is a testimony to its value and importance. Marcus Garvey was right when he said we can accomplish what we will.

WHY NO COMPETITION?

The insult, Mr Thompson, was not that a local architect has not been chosen, but that what is being envisaged would not contemplate an invitation to any architect besides Frank Gehry. Why should the process to design the Reggae Hall of Fame Museum not be a competition, to celebrate the diversity, explore the opportunities and, ultimately, select the best design? That is the sort of big, wide thinking which reggae has come to represent.

Surely Mr Thompson can see the immediate global impact of an announcement for an international competition for a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, including the likes of Frank Gehry, Foster & Partners, Steven Holl, Adjaye Associates, Tom Wright of Atkins, Zaha Hadid and other international, regional and local architects.

Internationally, the design for projects of such national and cultural value are adjudicated by way of a competition, whether open or by invitation. I would look forward to submitting my competition entry. We would look forward to architect Frank Gehry's competition entry, as it would be awesome. The question is, would it be the best design?

Accomplished architects and avid participants in international competitions are familiar with the taste of both victory and defeat. It is part of being an architect.

Christopher Whyms-Stone is an architect. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and cstone@cornerstonecaribbean.com

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