Mon | Oct 2, 2023

Rebuilding Jamaica’s cultural identity

Fostering deeper connection with built environment

Published:Sunday | August 27, 2023 | 7:38 AMBryan Johnson - Contributor
One stop bus stop by Byran Johnson
One stop bus stop
Blinkin Bus Station Entrance
Blinkin Bus Station Entrance

In the heart of the Caribbean lies a nation rich with history, tradition, and a vibrant cultural identity: Jamaica. However, as modernisation surges forward, a concerning trend is emerging: a growing disregard and disconnect between Jamaican citizens and their built environments. This neglect not only threatens the physical aesthetics of the country, but also risks severing the ties that bind its people to their heritage.

I would like to initiate an open conversation where we delve into the pressing need to bridge the gap between cultural identity, tradition, and preservation within Jamaica’s built environment, fostering a harmonious relationship that celebrates our past while embracing our future.

Jamaica’s built environment holds a trove of stories, memories, and legacies that are intertwined with its people’s lives. This synergy is not merely a matter of architecture, but rather, a manifestation of culture, craftsmanship, and tradition. Our architectural heritage speaks volumes about our history, values, and aspirations. Yet with each passing day, we witness the rise of structures that mimic Western ideals, subtly eroding the distinctive Jamaican identity that should be etched into our buildings.

Cultural identity is the soul of a nation, and architecture serves as its tangible expression. A well-preserved built environment is a testament to our roots and achievements. The fusion of colonial, African, and indigenous influences in Jamaican architecture paints a vivid picture of our complex history. From the intricate wooden fretwork to the vernacular constructs that nestle the experiences of freedom and resourcefulness of our rural areas, every inch tells a story. By nurturing, and developing these architectural elements, we establish a living connection between past and present, reminding us all of our shared heritage.


Additionally, it is important to acknowledge the negative historical context that sometimes casts a shadow over discussions of craftsmanship and cultural identity. The echoes of slavery and colonialism have, undeniably, left scars on our history. However, focusing solely on the pain and suffering can eclipse the brilliance of our cultural achievements and the resilience of our people. By choosing to highlight the craftsmanship and artistry that existed long before and after those dark times, we can shift the narrative towards empowerment and self-expression.

Craftsmanship is a cornerstone of tradition, and it finds its truest expression in architecture. The meticulous techniques passed down through generations are a testament to our commitment to excellence. This craftsmanship not only provides aesthetic appeal, but also serves as a tangible link to our ancestors’ skills and dedication. From the artistic detailing of our churches and mahogany furniture to the vibrant motifs adorning our homes, every stroke of craftsmanship is a celebration of our past and a foundation for our future.

However, the present trend seems to lean towards disconnect rather than continuity. Cookie-cutter designs, often imported from the West, are becoming increasingly prevalent. These structures may be functional, but they lack the heart and soul that come with embracing our cultural identity. By continuing down this path, we risk exchanging our vibrant tapestry for a monotone canvas, devoid of the essence that makes Jamaica unique.


To counter this alarming trajectory, we must create a romantic relationship between citizens and their built environment. This romance is not about mere aesthetics, but about fostering a deep emotional connection that resonates with our shared heritage.

Imagine walking through streets adorned with buildings that tell stories through their design, materials, and details. These structures would evoke a sense of belonging, pride, and nostalgia, enabling us to navigate our fast-paced world while firmly rooted in our history.

Visualising this transformative concept is vital, and it starts with rendering a future where our culture and traditions flourish. In my architectural renders, I prompt and envision spaces that embody craft, history, and storytelling. From the ornamental mechanisms of the one-stop bus stop to the organised chaos in the timber structures of the blinkin bus station. All these renditions explore and depict moments within our history that are known and unknown, visible, and hidden.

In conclusion, the disconnect Jamaican citizens are experiencing with their built environment is a call to action for rekindling our relationship with our cultural identity and architectural heritage. By romanticising the craftsmanship, culture, and tradition that underpin our built spaces, we can forge a deeper connection that empowers citizens to actively engage in the preservation and evolution of these spaces. Through renderings that inspire and captivate, we can envision a future where our built environment celebrates our uniqueness and paves the way for a harmonious coexistence of tradition and progress. It is time to rewrite the story of our architecture, one that is rich in culture, pride, and a shared sense of belonging.