Tuesday, June 28, 2011

JAMAICA: Falmouth

The locus of our activities - drawing, designing, deconstructing and constructing - in Falmouth was 10 Albert Street. We walked to work at our "site" about six blocks from our "home" at the Baptist Manse, headquarters of Falmouth Heritage Renewal. We caught glances and occasionally comments as we trudged in concrete-stained pants or carrying our large drawing boards. We were seen jogging in the mornings before breakfast, looping Rodney Street to Cornwall to Market, and again until we tired. Some cheered our exercise efforts, some laughed! I think we were *noticed* in the neighborhood.

I took a detour with my sketch pad frequently throughout our four weeks. Trying to be less conspicuous, I enjoyed overhearing household conversation in Jamaican patois, children playing, a variety of music on the radios. The barrier between the household and the street is permeable in places where buildings "breathe", ventilated rather than air-conditioned. Sometimes, residents approached me to ask what I was doing, and I explaining our Field School experience, particularly our partnership with Falmouth Heritage Renewal (FHR) in re-building the house on Albert Street. They asked if their houses could be helped, and I explained the mission of FHR and the great work they are doing to preserve historic buildings in this town, celebrated for its treasury of Georgian architecture and vernacular board houses built by free blacks in the 1800s. I've learned that, though some outsiders appreciate Falmouth's architectural heritage - scholars, preservationists and, last but not least, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line who chose to build their gated wharf here, named 'Historic Falmouth' and developed to imitate the Georgian architecture of Real Falmouth - the stewards of Falmouth's heritage are its residents. For more on the dynamics of tourism + preservation & sustainable development in Falmouth, see the outstanding report Oasis on the Horizon (University of Virginia - Brady, Redfearn, Nelson & others)

The goal of this ecoReMOD project is to make one historic board house, built without plumbing, VIABLE by preserving the house (in this case, salvaging and re-building, due to extensive termite damage) and adding new kitchen and bath facilities designed to complement and not obscure the board house. Making the historic house liveable SUSTAINS not only the house, but the town of Falmouth. This is likewise the mission of FHR, "to accurately preserve and restore the historic buildings of Falmouth, Jamaica while improving the lives of its residents." Though Falmouth is designated an historic district, enforcement by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust will not prevent demolition, but resident owners who VALUE Falmouth as an architectural, cultural and economic resource can choose to adopt an approach of SUSTAINABILITY through PRESERVATION. Whenever a resident decides to preserve an historic house and build necessary facilities incrementally, instead of demolishing an historic building altogether and replacing it with a modern concrete house, the architectural heritage of Falmouth is honored, one building at a time. I hope our presence and our work in Falmouth scored a few points for preservation.

My documentary detours led me to examine the neighborhood urban scale by attempting a rooftop plan of the historic blocks we traverse daily. I was impressed by the roof forms of Jamaica, the likes of which I'd never seen in combination quite like this before. Many small roofs traditionally cover a historic house in Falmouth, many hip roofs especially. Roof forms meet edge to edge within the footprint of the building. I thought, with my US mindset: This looks like a real challenge to a watertight building! and, More expensive to build, with a greater number of members and complex forms! I learned: In an environment threatened by hurricanes, a composition of many smaller roofs fares better in the storm. Better to replace one small roof than to lose your entire building with the lift-off of one large roof. Additionally, it's possible imported lumber was hard to obtain in greater spans. I learned a little about roofs in my detours, and thought a lot about the preservation of the real historic Falmouth as I listened to the neighborhood patois.

No comments: