Sun | Sep 19, 2021

Patricia Green | Development residential architecture and hurricane preparedness

Published:Sunday | June 6, 2021 | 12:09 AM
Patricia Green
Patricia Green

I was asked a question and have been pondering as we start the 2021 Hurricane Season, June 1 to November 30. What will be the effect of hurricanes on the expanse of glass that now proliferates as a new trend on development residential architecture, especially on high-rise?

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), an agency of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, currently in the news over COVID-19 pandemic readiness, has produced a ‘Hurricane Safety’ brochure. It states that when a hurricane is expected to hit within 36 hours, “… batten down windows and doors with shutters or timber…”. Is there a management plan inside these developments to batten down against any possible glass perils?

Putting forward here that this is a critical research question that Jamaica should be addressing. How should Jamaican society filter imposition of technology and trends foreign to its tropical practice and tradition of time-tested architecture and construction of resilience to earthquakes and hurricanes yet showcase modernism?

Under Section 15 (2) of the 2018 Building Act, the Local Authority shall not refuse to approve building work or any stage of construction on the grounds that material or product or construction method is unsatisfactory. These issues must be accredited by the Bureau of Standards “…or any other body responsible for accreditation …”. Therefore, any residential development design ideas, material use, and construction technique will receive building approval.

This warrants serious consideration, noting that the forecasters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted on May 20, 2021, another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.


My historic research on the evolution of Jamaican and Caribbean architecture documents the use of small panes of glass in doors and windows to prevent harm in hurricanes with combined timber jalousie or louvre shutters. Later contemporary derivatives resulted in aluminium- and glass-louvre window units. Traditional hurricane risk mitigation included small roof overhang to prevent uplift. Thatched or shingled roof were optimum steep-pitched hip, an equilateral triangle allowing equal forces with roof vents for pressure equilibrium and breathability in hurricanes. Look at the circa 1807 old courthouse building in front of the St Andrew Parish Church near Half-Way Tree. Importantly, traditional buildings were designed to breathe. Doors and room dividers had openings with fretwork or lattice infill for breezes to pass as a hurricane pressure release system. Tree planting acted as hurricane wind-breakers.

So we question the increasing removal of mature trees for development as well as the rapid transformation of the landscape without requisite environmental impact assessments. Carolyn Cooper remarked in the May 16 Gleaner commentary about the high-rise developments under construction on Wellington Drive in Kingston 6, “… Mi no tink dem coulda pass no ‘environmental impact assessment’. Nobody inna dem right mind couldn’t claim seh dem deh building nah go affect di community inna wan bad-bad way … . Two next big an broad apartment building a go up pon Wellington Drive. Side a one gully. Dat a one next crosses …”. The Wellington Drive high-rises are not only against a gully, but also against the Beverley Hills embankment. Anyone able to recall the Mona dam overflowing?

Typhoon wind hazard analysis in Hong Kong, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, concluded that atmospheric turbulence results from the vertical movement of air, together with flow disturbances around surface obstacles. The questions that may be posed for Wellington Drive is, how is this proposed development affecting the environment adjacent to the gully and the hillside currently, and what would be the results of any simulation to predict storm/hurricane scenarios with these high-rises? During hurricanes, the winds travel in one direction then reverse after the eye of the hurricane passes to return in the other direction. What would be the impact on the adjacent low-rise residences in the vicinity of these cross winds with irregular eddies and turbulence even without severe hurricane weather? Another study in the UK in 2017 looked at “how tall buildings affect turbulent air flows and dispersion of pollution within a neighbourhood”.


The ODPEM ‘Hurricane Safety’ brochure continues, “… stay indoors, do not go outside during the calm when the eye of the hurricane is passing, stay in an indoor room …”.

Rafi Ahmad of the Department of Geography and Geology at The University of the West Indies elaborated, “… hurricane tracks show the position of the centre of a hurricane, referred to as ‘eye’, at a particular point in time as the system moves forward. Hurricane’s eye is an area of low pressure surrounded by a series of spiral rainbands of high wind and torrential rain that may extend outward for hundreds of kilometres …”.

My first hurricane experience came from the Category Three Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Friends shared how the pressure built up inside their house and everyone was feeling unwell. I recalled the historic documents advised to open the building on the leeward side from the hurricane-force winds. Afterwards, I observed that a number of roofing systems exploded, and my investigations proved that the persons had totally sealed up their house, not opening any windows. My late grandmother, Amy-Maud Johnson, like the ODPEM, cautioned against going out during the eye of the hurricane. With her young son, she had been unable to return to the safety of her resilient timber-framed, shingle-roofed, jalousie-windowed house after she went out during the eye of one of the many hurricanes she had experienced. “…I heard the Lord saying, ‘Get low because zinc and trees were flying and, protect the boy. Lie on top of him so that the wind would not blow him away’…”.

In this season of climate change, the Caribbean is experiencing Category Five hurricanes. In September 2017, there were three following the same path –Irma, Jose, then Maria – and Dorian in September 2019. What will be the effect of hurricanes on the expanse of glass that now proliferates therefore invites a plea to ensure that residential developments exercise hurricane preparedness for the protection of the occupiers and the safety of adjacent neighbours.

- Patricia Green, PhD, is a registered architect, former head of the Caribbean School of Architecture in the Faculty of the Built Environment at University of Technology, Jamaica. Send feedback to