Patricia Vert | Maintenance and upkeep – Jamaican architecture written on the wall | New


When the women’s Bible study group dissected Daniel chapter 5 verses 25-28, “the writing on the wall,” surprisingly, a number of people began submitting pictures of writings to the discussion group. their own walls. The general feeling was fear: will my apartment collapse on top of me? Even before I commented, the cat resonated with, “These are structural cracks.” “Yes, my building is on sloping ground. “” My landlord is unable to do anything about them. “” Imagine mine is a new building. “Are these the same signs today of” … lead, lead, tekel, parsin … “that Daniel interpreted for the king of Babylon around 626 BC?

I remember my comment in The gleaner on May 15, 2018, ‘Cornwall: It’s the maintenance, not the design’. Cornwall Regional Hospital is an internationally exceptional modern architecture whose building failure is not due to design, but to a systemic lack of upkeep and maintenance. Opened over 40 years ago in 1974, there have been piecemeal repairs, seemingly without a full maintenance strategy.


Ng Keng Gene wrote in the Straits Times on April 16, “URA will study how to breathe new life into Singapore’s aging modernist buildings.” It showcases its high-rise architecture, “… built during Singapore’s post-independence years in the 1970s and 1980s, are an important and often striking feature of its cityscape. Yet time has taken its toll on many large Modernist buildings, which are in need of major renovation and modernization…. ”

Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) must guide policies on how to maintain and rehabilitate its city with modern high-rise architecture. The strategy is to examine buildings constructed in the modern architectural style that are approximately 30 to 50 years old and have a gross floor area of ​​at least 8,000 square meters or are at least eight storeys high.

It is interesting to note that the strategy led by the Singapore government has also assumed the responsibility of rehabilitating a number of modern state-owned buildings.

What about the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, Jamaica, after it closed three years later to resume all operations?

A URA spokesperson added, “… instead of redevelopment, the URA would like to encourage building owners to explore rehabilitation… it extends the life of buildings and allows them to adapt to changing conditions. new uses… this could allow them to preserve elements of heritage, identity, and a sense of community….


Gene quoted Associate Professor Yeo, Singapore University of Technology and Design, “… the rehabilitation of large modern buildings was not only a technical but also a financial challenge… it is generally less profitable for homeowners in current real estate market conditions to rehabilitate buildings. than to demolish and rebuild them, and so it would be helpful if there were also policy studies on how to make rehabilitation more financially viable … this will correct the current financial imbalance between conservation and redevelopment of older buildings , and could further encourage consideration of conservation…. ”

Yeo also said that “… an effort for conservation makes sense in the context of government initiatives to reduce carbon emissions as part of the ‘Singapore 2030 Green Plan’ …”

Repeatedly, appeals to successive governments to encourage strategies for the conservation and preservation of Jamaica’s historic architecture have proved unsuccessful. Valuable building stock in rural and urban environments as a retail sustainable construction educational tool to teach the next generation of architects and others in the construction industry continues to perish. These architectures have survived earthquakes and hurricanes as historically resilient responses to climate vagaries and natural disasters as products of Jamaican artisans of African descent. Today, this architecture suffers from neglect, with destruction imminent by urban “renewal” of bulldozers, instead of urban “regeneration” with conservation strategies for the next generation.

The sad collapse of a two-story house in Rosemary Lane in central Kingston in December 2017 inspired the recently aired documentary on Television Jamaica “Living in shacks” beautifully produced by Kelisha Williams. It also highlighted the expanse of downtown Kingston’s architectural heritage park that quickly faced bulldozers.

What would be an appropriate Singaporean model for Kingston with its enviable collection of post-1907 earthquake technology of a modern architectural response to both reinforced concrete and ‘nog-framed’ construction technology, some unique to the Jamaica? Yeo may have the answer: “… building rehabilitation will serve Singapore not only in terms of heritage, but also in terms of sustainability, especially with the high carbon footprint of building demolition…”.

The G8 Summit, which took place June 8-10, 2004, in Sea Island, Georgia, USA, produced the Three Rs of Sustainability initiative: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. Gene reported that heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo, from the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore, lamented the loss of Modernist buildings, adding that the Singapore study was timely and urgent. Widodo, who is also the founder of the International Tropical Architecture Network, has a keen interest in Jamaican architecture and how it enhances the study of tropicalism. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic had “… provided us with [Singapore] with the opportunity to rethink the possibilities of conserving, recycling, reusing and rehabilitating our modern heritage….


In 2015, Kingston was declared UNESCO Creative City of Music, then reggae music of Jamaica was listed as UNESCO Intangible Heritage in 2018, so Kingston’s historic cityscape and architecture became an international platform requiring conservation and not demolition.

As Restoration Architect and Creator of the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Old Hope Road, another example of Jamaican Heritage Architecture, guiding Rita Marley with Dr Eleanor Wint and Neville Garrick in the end product enjoyed by President Obama during From his visit to Jamaica in 2015, I worked with my close professional colleague and friend, architect Christopher Whyms-Stone, on the restoration of the Trench Town house of Bunny Wailer’s father, Thaddeus “Thaddy Shut” Livingston. It is an architectural legacy of the important ‘bulletwood’ technology that originated in Jamaica, and Whyms-Stone was instrumental in its designation to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in 2018.

Citizens want Jamaica to follow Singapore’s practice of sustainable governance. Therefore, should Jamaica adopt this strategy of maintenance and upkeep of Singapore architecture, including incentives for the conservation and preservation of its urban environment? How should citizens interpret the writings on the wall as heartbreaking news unfolds over Surfside condos in Florida?

Patricia Green, PhD, is a Chartered Architect, former Director of the Caribbean School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment, University of Technology Jamaica. Send your comments to [email protected]

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