They think they've thrown local architects a bone (token)

Hugh
Dunbar

Monday, May 21, 2018

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It is somewhat refreshing to see the range of commentary presented by members of the architectural profession recently regarding the proposed location of a parliament building at National Heroes' Park. I agree with most of the expressed sentiments from the Jamaica Institute of Architects that the park should be reserved as a green space as the Act creating it stipulates; however, it seems that whoever came up with the idea to use the park for purposes other than that which it was intended will overcome any opposition based on precedents concerning Government having its way regardless of popular or considered opinion.

Genuine consultation with local professionals should have been at the forefront of any planning for such an important feature of governance, and the lack of an overall plan for the city of Kingston that integrates existing economics, demographics, layout, and history will lead to more, not less, situations like this due to the political environment in which Jamaica exists.

Communities grow where people share common values, and in Jamaica those values have been imposed or imported for all who now call Jamaica home. They were put in place to achieve imperial ambitions of powerful nations through coercion or military might. Currently, our values should reflect the majority of Jamaicans who were once slaves, but that reality is hard to define since the values that were part of the Africans' reality before slavery in Africa were stripped from them during 400 years of slavery. In that time, the African was made to believe that his/her existence was less than human, and the ethnicity-related values inconsequential – making it easier to control them.

I can only assume that there were communities in Africa and that their architecture represented something, but the reality of the values of the African in Jamaica were imposed to uphold the values of those who enslaved us. There was nothing compelling them to believe that we were capable of anything of value, except the occasional slave revolt and the use of our bodies. We took this narrative and applied it to ourselves, reflecting what we see today — a splintering of what was once a cohesive society (under colonial glue), albeit a brutal one, into today's stratified society in which colour, class and national origin form the basis for social status and opportunity for the majority of Jamaicans of African origin.

Applying this reality to the issue of governance should make it clear what our political leaders think of Jamaican professionals. That they would think outsourcing things that form the core for national pride, without as much as a consultation, reveals the true feelings. They clearly do not see Jamaicans as being capable of great plans for any national civic architecture. Had it not been for the sustained representation of the Jamaican society who voiced opposition to having such an important structure as the parliamentary house designed and built by foreigners, we would probably be only hearing about the construction taking place behind construction fences. The Government's acquiescence to having a design competition for only the parliament building is likely to be just a token to appease those who think that progress is having the Jamaican Government give Jamaican architects an opportunity to design something. That is all it is, a token to appease.

If there were any sincerity in Government, on either side of the aisle, the entire operation to build in the National Heroes' Park would be scrapped and an overall plan developed with the inclusion of the Jamaican people, including the professionals, outside the park.

I cannot say enough about the cause for architecture — an activity that has been utilised ever since mankind started creating spaces in which to live and operate, thus creating communities. Ambitions and achievements of communities are reflected in many architectural designs created by the residents, and their architecture has survived to be the history we see today. The Egyptians have their pyramids, the Greek have their temples, and the Romans have arenas, bridges and roads, and modern nations adopt some of these designs as symbol to express their greatness — or aspiration to it. It is important to note that these architectural symbols have in common the fact that they are designed and built by the people of their own country. Jamaicans, on the other hand, will have no such feeling of achievement or ambition because our leaders have let us know they have no such faith in us. We need leaders who believe in us and are one with us.

Hugh M Dunbar, RA, is an architect. Send comments to the Observer or hmdenergy@gmail.com.

PULL QUOTE

I cannot say enough about the cause for architecture — an activity that has been utilised ever since mankind started creating spaces in which to live and operate, thus creating communities. Ambitions and achievements of communities are reflected in many architectural designs created by the residents, and their architecture has survived to be the history we see today. The Egyptians have their pyramids, the Greek have their temples, and the Romans have arenas, bridges and roads, and modern nations adopt some of these designs as symbol to express their greatness — or aspiration to it. It is important to note that these architectural symbols have in common the fact that they are designed and built by the people of their own country

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