Thu | Dec 8, 2022

Patricia Green | Honouring architects – Jamaica’s nation-builders

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2022 | 12:10 AM

This 1981 photo shows the modernistic, neo-American shape of Jamaica House.
This 1981 photo shows the modernistic, neo-American shape of Jamaica House.

In recognition of the Jamaica 60th Diamond Jubilee, we sing: “Jamaica land of beauty; We promise faithfully; To serve thee with our talents; And bring our gifts to thee; Jamaica, we will always; In honour of thy name; Work steadfastly and wisely; And never bring thee shame;” (Words by A.L. Hendricks/Music by Lloyd Hall).

Travel with me to review the talents of various architects who brought their gifts to Jamaica Independence nation-building, working steadfastly and wisely, making contributions to a modern, intrinsically Jamaican, and Caribbean, idiom. This lasted until about 1975-76 when the Jamaican economy imploded with a three-day workweek, major cutbacks in building activities, and migration of Jamaican professionals and artisans, states Architect Lester Mark Taylor, a former head of the Caribbean School of Architecture in A sketch of the Birth and Development of a Modernist Architecture in Jamaica, 1945-1975 with special reference to Kingston.

Significant is the National Stadium, designed by Architect Wilson Chong, first recipient in 1962 of the Governor General’s Award in Architecture (GG Award). Wilson is affectionately considered the father of the Jamaican Society of Architects, later rebranded the Jamaican Institute of Architects (JIA). The Jamaica House website reads that Architect Lloyd Shearer and his business partner, Marvin Goodman, won its design competition. On February 10, 1963, the House approved the construction of a residence for the prime minister of Jamaica, and “a competition was also held to select a name for the building and, from the 74 entries, the name Jamaica House was chosen”. Why has Jamaica relinquished this beautifully appointed official residence? Should we return it to its original concept?

Public sector offices engaged in building independent Jamaica had specific government architects’ branches. The Ministry of Education had Chief Architect Victor Patterson designing government schools nationwide. Public Works Department fell under the Ministry of Works. with Chief Architect Mostyn Campbell and Deputy Chief Architect Lloyd Robinson producing architecture for all government entities except education, housing and town planning. Mostyn and Lloyd designed and oversaw projects, including the landmark circular Tax Office building on East Street, Kingston and emerging health facilities such as the Dental Auxiliary School on Arthur Wint Drive, Kingston.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

The Ministry of Housing, headed by Chief Architect Rupert Bond, was responsible for social/low-income/affordable housing of the poor across Jamaica. The Town Planning Department (re-branded National Environment Planning Agency/Natural Resources Conservation Authority) had Government Town Planner Architect Dudley McLaren and Deputy Government Town Planner Architect Carl Chen responsible for urban planning of town centres and rural development across Jamaica, such as the Town and Country Planning (Kingston) Development Order, 1966. Incidentally, this Order remains the legal instrument for urban development in Kingston today.

Two 1962 Independence architecture scholarship recipients, who were Architect Neil Richards and Architect Kingsley Robotham, travelled to London, UK to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. On their return, Kingsley worked under Rupert at the Ministry of Housing, and Neil under Dudley and Carl at the Town Planning Department.

By 1968, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) was established to redevelop the Kingston waterfront, and British Architect David Gregory Jones was recruited as its chief architect. Jamaican Landscape Architect Roy Thomas led UDC landscape design teams on projects such as the Fern Gully restoration and conservation, to arrest erosion and replant and introduce new species of ferns.

There remains today only one private sector firm that has been in continuous practice from before Independence. It has transitioned into Jamaican partnerships offering integrated services, APEC Consultants Limited. Originating in 1947 as the Jamaican branch of UK partnership Norman and Dawbarn, it undertook the layout and design of the University College of the West Indies and its medical school at Mona, also the airports at Kingston and Montego Bay. The firm transitioned into Rutkowski, Bradford and Partners in the 1960s, and designed the Bank of Jamaica building on the Kingston waterfront. Partners over the years included Architect Herbert Bradford, Architect Richard Brandon and Architect Raymond McIntyre.

Founded in 1955 by Architect Vayden McMorris (who served for many years as chair of the Victoria Mutual Building Society) and Architect Jeremy Sibley, then later joined by Architect Herbert Robinson in 1958, was the firm, McMorris Sibley Robinson. As the first Jamaican architectural firm, it handled projects in Jamaica and the Caribbean with designs of high-rise complexes, PanJam Building in New Kingston, and the Turtle Beach Resort Apartments in Ocho Rios. Working with this firm was Architect Verma Panton, the first woman architect in the English Caribbean, who received a scholarship from Jamaica to attend McGill University in Canada and returned to Jamaica in 1964.

TOURISM RESORT VILLAS

Architect Herbert Denham (Denny) Repole had a medium-size firm that, like many others, designed middle- and upper-income housing on the Jamaican landscape. These housing types also became tourism resort villas. Denny initiated the first townhouse design concept in the Ten-Ambassadors Apartments on Hopefield Avenue, Kingston.

The second generation of Jamaican architectural firms came in the early ‘70s, for example, the firm Design Collaborative that received awards for the Cultural Training Centre (Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts), Arthur Wint Drive, Kingston. Architects Evan Williams, Patrick Stanigar, David Twiss and Stephen Mendes formed this firm that also executed and received awards for social housing project McIntyre Lands Public Housing, off Spanish Town Road, Kingston. Another architect, E. Nadine Isaacs, became the first woman JIA president, and later when the Caribbean School of Architecture (CSA) was founded at the University of Technology, Jamaica, in 1987, serving the English-speaking Caribbean, Nadine was its first head of school.

Emanating from the CSA, mention should be made of Architect Laurie Fearon and Architect Stacey-Ann Dennison Heron, respectively first CSA graduates as male and female JIA presidents. Likewise, Architect Mark A. B. Taylor was the first CSA graduate and his team to receive a GG Award for the Evelyn Mitchell Infant School, in Top Hill, Clarendon. Currently, CSA master’s graduate Brian Deleser Williams has created and evolved architecture visualisation and taken virtual teaching and learning platforms into new and innovative dimensions.

There are other worthy architects who should be mentioned. Therefore, as the JIA archivist, I invite you to add them in recognition of Jamaica 60th nation-builders.

As we look ahead, what is in place to maintain those post-Independence nation-building institutions? A new township is planned for Bernard Lodge agricultural lands, yet is this adjacent to the Rio Cobre continually being polluted? Prime Minister Holness announced in July 2022 yet another new city for southern Jamaica, and, on August 3, opened the Kingston Logistics Park adjacent to the Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited. Will there be a local government with its municipal corporations staffed with requisite professionals to manage new developments?

- Patricia Green, PhD, a registered architect and conservationist, is an independent scholar and advocate for the built and natural environment. Send feedback to patgreen2008@gmail.com.