Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 12th 2014 Contents B2
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, December 12, 2014
Revamping Gallus Street house a private project
"My great-grandmother owned the
house opposite St Mary s Church and
Moviezone in St James, so I studied that.
I studied the house my grandmother lived
in and brought my mother up in. And I
also studied my house that I live in now
(in Petit Valley). I did an analysis of the
areas, the footprints and elevations of the
buildings and did fenestration-ratio studies
to see which one was the most efficient
house, which used energy the best and
was the most cost-effective. And of course
it ended up being my great-grandmother s
She used the information she had
researched to design plans for a house for
her final university project, which "learns
from the mistakes of the past."
As well as learning from the past, she s
also preserving it. This was a privately
undertaken project, funded by her father,
(2014 national award-winner Dr Gordon
Narayansingh). The house on Gallus Street
was on its last legs when he bought it
from a woman in her 50s who was born
and lived there her whole life.
"The first time we visited the house it
was midday and the family had come to
congregate in the central room with a jug
of juice on the table," says Narayansingh.
"My mom came with me and said to me,
this is literally how life used to be when
she was growing up.
"The previous owners are extremely
happy. They drove past a few times taking
pictures, and we invited them to the open-
house event, where she was moved to
tears. She said it was her mother s dying
wish that the house be sold to someone
who could keep it up, if the family couldn t
keep it up themselves."
Narayansingh explains why colonial-
era houses deteriorate. Unlike elsewhere,
T&T appears to be letting its homes col-
lapse---places the rest of the world would
give anything to have and preserve.
"In Trinidad we ve reached the point
where these houses all need attention
because of the wood and the weathering
and all the pollutants we have now in our
"I ve been to other Caribbean countries
on class trips, like Puerto Rico, which has
a huge historic district and they care so
much about their history.
"In Trinidad we never had to fight for
our independence, our culture is not about
fighting for any kind of history. We were
handed our independence and things come
easily to us, so we don t put the time into
caring for things because they don t have
so much historical significance. So build-
ings are being torn down because Trinidad
is like a camp---all these houses are like
camps, they go up and they come down."
She saw beauty in this typical "ginger-
bread" vernacular-style house, where oth-
ers just saw a slowly-collapsing building.
She quotes Vitruvius, a Roman 1st-century
BC architect whose three principles of
architecture were: utility, durability and
"The roof and the floor were in really
bad condition, so we started construction
one time. It s not a true restoration, in the
sense that we didn t get the exact wood
that was there 100 years ago, but we pre-
served the footprint. There are no changes,
it s literally as it was when we got it."
The work was done by Nicholas
McGrath and his construction crew, who
"felt the history" of the place and worked
all hours from May until December. She
too was on site day in, day out. She gives
a ball-park figure of $1 to $2 million for
a project like this.
"Purchasing a property here; the house
itself is worth nothing, the value is in the
piece of land. That s why they re so readily
The Greyfriars situation, she says, has
raised awareness, even if the media haven t
focused on it as hard as they should.
"It has made us question our laws and
why it was so easy for someone to come
and bulldoze that building. Sometimes
it takes something drastic to happen
to make us see."
Young, educated professionals like
Narayansingh are bringing hope that
the past can be salvaged. And as
one of her peers, historian Angelo
Bissessarsingh, suggests, it s people
with the necessary funds and skills
rather than the authorities who are
taking the bull by the horns.
"In a short space of time, we have
witnessed the restoration and rescue
of three architectural treasures by pri-
vate-sector entities," Bissessarsingh
told the Guardian. "The George Brown
house, Globe Cinema and Boissiere
(The George Brown House was saved
from destruction and restored in the
1980s and has recently been restored
"This is why the fate of Greyfriars is a
heinous crime against heritage. It s a burn-
ing slap to the cheek of national identity
and a reminder of how fragile our heritage
resources are and how susceptible to mer-
cenary ideals if we do not move swiftly
to protect what little is left."
From Page B1
On the porch of 65 Gallus Street,
Woodbrook, Laura Narayansingh sits
under the traditional wooden fretwork.
PHOTO: JEFF MAYERS
This was a privately
undertaken project, funded
by her father, (2014 national
award-winner Dr Gordon
Narayansingh). The house
on Gallus Street was on its
last legs when he bought it
from a woman in her 50s
who was born and lived
there her whole life.
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