It seems that one of the easiest things to do in Barbados is to order the demolition of important buildings. This is because we are not strict guardians of our heritage – we are not even loose guardians.
Our level of guardianship is like that of a renter, who has no property to pass on. Paying tax on land already paid for in blood, by our slave fore-parents, reinforces the attitude that we are renters. The government can evict us from ‘their’ property if we accumulate ‘rent’ arrears.
Most people are too distracted meeting their monthly expenses, to focus on being any type of guardians of our built heritage. Therefore, this responsibility must be led by our building professionals.
As a structural engineer, I support development, but with common sense and skill. A mediocre designer will always insist that everything be demolished. Their limited skill only allows them to work on text-book virgin sites.
The old Barbados Hilton was an internationally recognised architecturally significant building. It was demolished and replaced with a larger capacity hotel, but with none of the character of the old.
A skilled architectural planner could have incorporated the old building in the new development. However, no such skills are needed when designing for a nation that does not value its heritage.
Sometimes structurally sound buildings need to be demolished to make way for better developments. The demolition of the old Kensington Oval is a prime example.
I support a developer who wants to demolish a non-heritage building, and replace it with a modern building. The planned demolition of the Liquidation Centre, to make way for the Hyatt Hotel, may be an example of this.
I do not support a developer who wants to demolish the architecturally significant Empire Theatre. I did not support the BWA’s unnecessary and unconscionable demolition of the most important coral stone masonry underground building on this planet, at Fort George.
This structurally sound heritage building was likely built by our slave fore-parents, under the supervision, not of the plantation slave owners, but the disciplined British military. The almost perfect design was crudely copied in other parts of Barbados, and used as water cisterns. But the original building at Fort George was a rare example of extremely high-quality workmanship.
We also demolish slave huts, which show the quality of workmanship our slave fore-parents used when building houses for their families. We have lost the art of stone masonry in Barbados. Those wonderful quality buildings should have been preserved for the education, appreciation and marvel of our children.
To order the demolition of our heritage buildings is to do our children a grave disservice. Are we not hypocrites to tell the next generation to care about what we build, when we disdainfully destroy what our fore-parents built?
The planned demolition of the Liquidation Centre revealed a glaring missing link in the demolition decision making process. We were informed that the Environmental Protection Department condemned the building for rat droppings, and the Fire Department did the same for inadequate access.
After a government regulator condemns a building from being occupied, the conditions under which the building can be reoccupied should be provided. For example, sanitise the building and install a new door.
How did we get from temporarily condemning a building from being occupied, to ordering its demolition? That is the glaring missing link. It seems that someone mistakenly thought that condemned from being occupied, meant condemned to be demolished. This government policy needs to change immediately.
A public building should be demolished for one of three reasons. One, if it is structurally unstable, and is prohibitively expensive to stabilize. Two, if it has become unaffordable to maintain. Three, to give way to a higher-capacity development. The latter reason may be used to justify the demolition of the Liquidation Centre, not rat droppings.
Solutions Barbados recommends that all reports that are used to justify demolishing a public building should be made public. We should never demolish an important public building on the advice of only one person or agency.
We should value our limbs enough to seek a second opinion, before allowing a doctor to amputate. Similarly, guardians of our heritage should insist on a second opinion, before agreeing to the demolition of an important six-storey public building.
Regarding the old National Insurance Building, the valuable structure should not be wasted. Consideration should be given to reuse the ground floor as a naturally ventilated open market, the first floor as shops and a food court, and the remaining four upper floors as naturally ventilated residences.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com