Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Christopher Whyms-Stone | Embracing the vision of change

Published:Sunday | April 7, 2019 | 12:00 AMChristopher Whyms-Stone - Guest columnist
Design Collaborative’s winning design for the new Parliament building.
Emancipation Park, St Andrew
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In 1938, my maternal grandparents moved from Gold Street in Kingston to 38 1/4 Mountain View Road in St Andrew. My grandmother cried to my grandfather as being a city girl, she was reluctant and distraught with the idea of moving to “the country”.

The Gold Street residence was (and still is) approximately 1.8 miles away from their new residence on Mountain View Road. Kingston, even in the 1930s, was a bustling, urbanised city. Gold Street was one of several streets that made up the city’s grid iron plan.

St Andrew at that time, really was “country”, with large estates and pens. There was no shortage of greenspaces in those days.

Today, the population and densities of Mountain View Road, Gold Street, and all the communities in between are almost indistinguishable. That our city has grown and continues to grow is natural.

In moving forward, we must acknowledge that Kingston and St Andrew of the 1930s are very different from metropolitan Kingston and St Andrew in 2019. By extrapolation, we, therefore, must be conscious of the needs of a more urbanised Kingston and St Andrew in 2080.

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

There are still many who believe that placing the new Parliament building inside National Heroes Park is unwise and not in keeping with progressive planning and environmental practices. It is a great and unnecessary sacrifice to relinquish such a large strategically located public green space to a substantial building complex. Doing this would almost equate to building a 40-acre structure in New York’s Central Park. It is unfortunate that in a 21st-century democratic Jamaica, our policymakers were uninterested in having any meaningful discussion on the siting for the new building. It is also unfortunate that the agencies and individuals charged with implementing did not have the courage to express their honest opinions. We tend to, too often, forget that our elected representatives work for us and not vice-versa.

In 1990, Prime Minister Michael Manley wanted to build a national arts complex and commercial buildings on lands that the Liguanea Club had donated to the city for public recreational use. In defence of the proposed development, the site was called a dustbowl and wasted space even though its oversight and maintenance had jurisdiction somewhere.

The project went as far as having architects and engineers hired, drawings prepared and presentations made. The government town planner of the day, and other like-minded groups and individuals, urged HPM Manley to reconsider.

On those lands today we have Emancipation Park, an invaluable addition to our city.

Since the purchase of the National Heroes Park property by the KSAC in 1818, the land which formed part of Montgomery Pen has been used for many activities such as cricket, cycling, circuses, concerts, exhibitions, formal ceremonies, and as a general gathering area for the inhabitants of the city.

Up until 1953, the area was called Kingston Race Course, as for a long period, the dominant use was for horse races. The track for horse racing was re-established at Knutsford Park in 1953, and the land was renamed the King George VI Memorial Park. An Act of 1956 formally declared the King George VI Memorial Park a recreational area. In the 1960s, Knutsford Park was developed into the financial and commercial district New Kingston. In 1973, George VI Memorial Park was renamed National Heroes Park and the shrine for our national heroes established.

VISION OF NORMAN MANLEY

Two reasons have been provided as justification for choosing inside National Heroes Park to construct the new Houses of Parliament. First, the idea was conceived by the visionary father of Jamaica, The Right Honorable Norman Manley. This was done via the George VI Memorial Act, which makes provisions for the location of the parliament building and other administrative buildings in the park.

Second, the Houses of Parliament are the centre of governance and, therefore, the Parliament must be at the centre of the Government Oval. The proposed masterplan for the area includes for the government ministerial buildings to be located on properties around the perimeter of the park.

There is a tendency to label persons as visionary when one’s ideas synchronise with those of others but label said person out of touch when that person’s ideas differ from one’s own.

Norman Manley is unarguably one of a handful who successfully laboured for the creation of an independent Jamaica. As part of this vision, Norman Manley also believed that Jamaica and its sister English-speaking islands would form a single block as the West Indies Federation. Though this vision had much support, it was opposed by others who had different ideas. Being the visionary The Right Honorable Norman Manley was, it is likely that having seen the development of Kingston and St Andrew over the past 80 years and in planning for its future, he would have reconsidered his earlier position. The 50-acre public green space is even more valuable for those Jamaicans yet to come.

Spatially, something does not require being literally in the centre of an organisation to be central to the organisation. This is even more evident in this digital age, where information and communication can be disseminated from anywhere, virtual or real. Centrality refers to something being easily accessible, of primary importance, or a singular point of control.

To be successful at either of these, the Parliament building need not be in the centre of the park. Consider, for example, a string of pearls linked to form a necklace, with one larger pearl taking the hierarchical position as the pendant. The future of the Kingston and St Andrew Metropolitan Area requires that the development of National Heroes Park, Jamaica’s Houses of Parliament, and the Government Oval be considered in this concept. This strategy aims to preserve and develop the National Heroes Park as the largest urban greenspace in the English-speaking Caribbean, and simultaneously, to develop a functional Government Oval.

The urban block between Torrington Road, Torrington Avenue, West Heroes Circle, and SlipeRoad/Orange Street presents the best opportunities for the site of the Houses of Parliament. The block forms part of the urban grid and connects directly to major north-south and east-west transportation corridors in the city. The block is of sufficient size to accommodate all the private, public, and ceremonial requirements, while still overlooking the park and forming the hierarchical link in the chain of ministerial buildings.

The development of the Parliament at this location would be a more transformational force for urban renewal than its isolation within a park. A Parliament building located at one of the gateways to National Heroes Circle would be iconic and be that bridge between the sacred and the everyday.

PREMIUM ON ICONIC

One understands that developing government-owned land for the Parliament is easier and potentially less expensive than acquiring private lands. However, the private land would have to be acquired anyway, at some point, to construct a ministerial or government building to effect the Government Oval masterplan. Perhaps it is these buildings that should be built first.

Our policymakers should be given credit for their decision, if even under duress, for seeing the benefits of putting the project to a public competition. Several countries have long embraced open competitions as a method of procuring architectural services for public projects in general but specifically for significant public buildings.

Despite their location, that the competition produced well-thought-out and well-designed buildings are of no surprise. The country (and region) is beginning to reap the rewards of establishing the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology (UTech), which is the only tertiary institution in the English-speaking Caribbean to provide a professional education in architecture.

The five selected finalists were said to fall into two categories of design: the iconic and the practical. A Parliament building should be both, with a premium on iconic. What the projects demonstrate is not only how awesome a well-designed National Heroes Park could be, but how intrusive the Houses of Parliament located in the middle of National Heroes Park will be. The issues are not only with the building size, but also with the services and requirements for motor vehicles, which accompany it.

Despite the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) prompting entrants to locate their building in the middle of the park, there were some who chose to listen more closely to the site itself. Some entrants placed their projects off-centre in the park as a conscious decision to not disrupt the north-south, east-west axes of the space and generally tried to ‘get out of the way’ of the park. These projects trended to be on or if not more engaged to the edges and perimeter of the park.

Only one of these projects was selected into the final five entries. The remaining four finalists placed their buildings in the centre. However, an analysis of the full complement of entries reveals that the park just wants to be a park, and the Parliament building wants to take the pole position in the necklace of governance on the perimeter.

- Christopher Whyms-Stone is an architect and managing director at Cornerstone. design Ltd., a former lecturer at the Caribbean School of Architecture UTech, current deputy chairman of the NRCA and TCPA, board member of TPDCo and the JNHT. Cornerstone.design Ltd. was also an entrant in the Parliament Design Competition. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com