Sat | Nov 27, 2021

Editorial | Genius design, but better on King’s House land

Published:Tuesday | April 2, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Anyone who viewed the offerings in the design competition for the new Parliament building that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is insistent on building at National Heroes Park can’t but celebrate the conceptual skills of Jamaica’s architects, whether they reside on the island or abroad.

All of the entries, from the initial 24, but in particular the five finalists, captured the ethos of Jamaica, and, importantly, the inspirational bits thereof.

But Evan Williams, and his team of Design Collaborative, the judges felt, and most Jamaicans are likely to agree, transcended the rest with their representation of this symbol of our democracy – a grand, circular structure, inspired by the national motto, ‘Out of Many One People’, that bears hints of the national stadium.

Or as the judges observed of Mr Williams’ effort: “The scale of the project is monumental and the primary expression is derived from an exploration of precedent and metaphor, presenting a grand heroic gesture that resonates at the scale of the city … . There is a clear and distinct reference to Winston Chong (the designer of the stadium) reflected in the architectural structural form.”

Even as we celebrate Mr Williams, we hope that his design is portable, and if required, scalable. While this newspaper believes that Jamaica needs a new Parliament building, and that its design should be appropriately symbolic of our democracy, we do not believe that National Heroes Park is the place for it.

National Heroes Park, on the periphery of downtown Kingston, covers 50 acres. It is the last remaining substantial green space in the capital, bordered by, adjacent to, or in the vicinity of communities such as Allman Town, Kingston Gardens, Woodford Park, Fetcher’s Land, and Torrington – all of which suffer from severe urban blight.

A semi-well-kept nineteen-and-half acres, or 39 per cent, hold the shrines to national heroes. A bit, on the eastern side, is vandalised as a car park for the finance ministry across the road. Despite several plans for development over the years, the remainder is largely a dust-bowl, but an important recreational area for residents of the nearby communities.

MASTER PLAN NEEDED

Mr Holness not only proposes to build the new Parliament on some of this “free” space, but sees it in the context of the project he calls Government Campus, where several ministries would be located, a bit like Whitehall.

Three ministries are already in the vicinity. The developmental proposal is part of an unsolicited bid from a Chinese construction company.

In the face of community concerns, Mr Holness has promised that there would be no large-scale destruction of existing buildings, which we take as a guarantee of no wholesale displacement of residents. Indeed, an early blow back ensured that Jamaican architects had a hand in designing the Parliament building. What, however, is missing, and apparently is still in development, is a master plan. But as we have suggested before, many of the communities around Heroes Park possess basic infrastructure, which can be built on. Large numbers of the homes are reasonably sound. People, however, lack the resources to rehabilitate them.

It can’t be beyond our imagination to design schemes that mobilise communities to leverage the financial resources and sweat equity that reside there and marry these with government funds and private capital to deliver urban renewal that also delivers economic returns to investors. In this regard, Heroes Park should remain a green area for the recreational use of the communities rather than the Urban Development Corporation’s Bantustan proposal of having “23 non-contiguous acres of green areas” for them.

Mr Williams’, hopefully transferable and scalable, design can be laid down on the King’s House lands, where the new Parliament would be in the proximity of the governor general’s residence and Jamaica House, the prime minister’s office. That, to us, makes sense.