Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 15th 2015 Contents JANUARY 2015 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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Trinidadians should never forget that in Port-of-
Spain---despite its current sorry state---we were
bequeathed by nature a port setting of great nat-
ural beauty: hills to the North forming a backdrop,
waterfront to the South, and wetlands to East
and West, carrying the potential for the devel-
opment of a beautiful but modest-sized capital city worthy of
a small island state.
Let us remind ourselves that is what we are. On closer inspection
we find that this setting is further enhanced by the glory that
is the Savannah; once again a gift recognised by foresighted
forebearers for its value in containing urban sprawl while simul-
taneously creating a park for all citizens to enjoy, a breathing
space in both senses.
Moving forward: and after six years of self government, and
54 years of Independence---which included 40 years or so of
high per capita income---a rich nation with a population of but
1.25 million people, what do we find?
Quite suddenly, with oil and gas funds in full flow, it seems
we lost sight of the need for national planning and discovered
a totally unnecessary craving to carry out the development of
high-rise public buildings as symbols of some sort of progress.
Concentrated in downtown PoS, constructed at high pace, five
years later still unfinished, in a city whose infrastructure and
construction industry were unprepared for such an assault.
Hence the resultant confusion that ensued the results of which
are still to being experienced to-day.
An alternative longer-term approach to development might
have been pursued less dramatically, perhaps, but with sounder-
based objectives. A development policy that viewed Trinidad
holistically as a small island with regional centres; so placing an
emphasis on development on an island-wide basis to the advantage
of all areas and the total population.
We had the funding for this to be achieved; focussing on the
need for island-wide infrastructural development, initially by
setting-up a co-ordinated transportation system based on a
policy of decentralisation away from an already overcrowded
city. We continue to do the opposite, confounding both the city
and its citizenry; leaving remote areas still as isolated and deprived
as they have always been.
What was the hurry? A five-year term of office?
Clearly national development needs a broader perspective.
Is the construction of tower blocks in a country the size of
T&T an essential symbol of progress?
Are they a pre-requirement for the creation of a beautiful
modern city? The answer on both counts must be a resounding,
As things exist in PoS today, we are the proud possessors of
several unfinished multistoried buildings, a vast floor area of
unoccupied space which has been empty with buildings dete-
riorating for the last few years because, apparently, we don't
have the funding immediately available to complete them. Begs
the question: were these projects undertaken with funding not
Worst of all, perhaps as a legacy due to the manic urge to
build high at speed in pursuit of a symbolic 20/20 first world
status---whatever that may be---we now find ourselves apparently
saddled with the design/build construction concept accepted
as the unquestioned darling of our politicians. This design/build
procedure is now failing us daily in terms of building any kind
of quality environment that can hope to measure up to the
quality of our God-given natural setting.
The procedure is failing us because it was an imported for-
mula---blindly adopted for political reasons---with little, if any,
analysis or discussion with building industry professionals as to
its suitability in the local context. As practiced here, it sacrifices
quality of design to a secondary role behind the aspect of cost:
the cart before the horse approach.
Whereas true quality in building can only be achieved by a
balance of factors; the only way to ensure we achieve the optimum
value for the dollar spent.
Can we not see that Port-of-Spain could be made into one
of the most beautiful small cities in the world from the head
start nature has provided?
Where is the vision that is essentially locally-centred and truly
independent in outlook; one that ceases to pander to the other?
Even before the current fall in oil/gas prices, our 100 or so
vocally silent practising architects the country, in many cases,
has paid to educate in foreign lands, were already searching for
scraps of work.
With design/build procedures cloaking the stark fact that
most of the larger projects are being designed overseas in China,
in France, in Canada, etc, why?
Are our local building industry professionals, architects,
engineers and quantity surveyors en masse considered incompetent
by our own government?
Are they different, in some way, from our doctors, lawyers,
engineers, and yes, politicians?
Where is our sense of pride and spirit of independence?
May we not assume that a local practitioner will show more
commitment to the task of a well-considered design rather than
a foreigner who has probably never visited our shores---or even
heard of us for that matter---and therefore can have no concept
of us as a people, our lifestyle, our aspirations; without this
knowledge a building is a building is a building without con-
Yes, there will be some cases where we will need specialist
back-up, but no building design in T&T should be allowed to
proceed without at the least some local input as a means of
ensuring not only the suitability for purpose of the end product,
but over time, the emergence of a Caribbean architectural expres-
How else are we to ensure we get suitable buildings while
simultaneously deepening the expertise of the local professionals
through practical hands-on experience. The current system is
producing largely unsuitable buildings and, let us be clear, acqui-
esces to a new and subtler form of the colonialist mentality far
more damaging to us than to the foreigner.
Meanwhile NIB---a major national corporate
body---recently proudly, and with the usual
fanfare reserved for such occasions---turned
yet another design/build sod, this time
with a French construction company on
a prime Savannah site, Queen's Park East.
This is the company who previously built on the PoS waterfront,
with no local design input. Ironically, the only one of the hasty
projects to be completed (another message for us there).
Do the public have any idea about the building being thrust
upon us, in our city, on our land and, presumably, using our
money, on this vitally important site?
If the press report is correct the project is to be a mix of office
and retail accommodation. In other words, a further inroad into
the sanctity of the already threatened Savannah. And the scale
of its immediate environs as a public park inviolate in perpetuity
and, by the same token, encourage a simultaneous dilution of
downtown PoS, the rightful home for retail development.
Have we still learned nothing from the architectural disaster
that has already desecrated the scale of the Savannah and the
uptown streets of the city by the design /build monstrosity that
is NAPA? A prime example of what we have been discussing.
Or is it that after more than 50 years of Independence, we still
just don't care about the quality of our environment and the
development of our own local talent?
John Gillespie is a consultant at Gillespie + Partners
No quality work from
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