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My Kingston — Christopher Lawson Whyms-Stone

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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Christopher Lawson Whyms-Stone Architect/Managing Director of Cornerstone.design Architecture

How long have you been in the profession?

It has been 18 years with my own firm Cornerstone.design Ltd. During this time I also lectured part-time at the Caribbean School of Architecture for 14 years. Eleven of those years were spent teaching Design Studio in the Undergraduate Programme and three years teaching Design Studio in the Master's Degree programme. So I have been both a practitioner and an educator.

What do you think intrigues most people about architecture?

People connect with the making of buildings for shelter whether for domestic or occupational use. It is an innate trait. People are intrigued with the idea of making something habitable whether as a bespoke personal assemblage of dreams and experiences or as a formal composition of a language borrowed from another period in time. Buildings are both visual and experiential, and like cars, clothes and jewellery, have that ability to affect human emotion, mood, and perceptions of themselves and others. People understand this and are therefore intrigued. Architecture entails the management of that process. Architecture is a plural movement which is why the education of architects, whilst broad, is typically demanding.

How has the profession changed over the last two decades?

Architecture at its core has not changed. Architects are still the conceptualisers of spaces and places and retain the responsibility for leading the team in preparing the instructions to bring these to reality. Architecture is a broad and thorough profession when practised in its purest form. Overseeing the implementation of those instructions is where the architect's role is invaluable. What has changed is the technology and tools available to execute our work. I am not only talking about faster computers and more user-friendly and sophisticated Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and modelling software; I am talking about the technological advances in building systems, materials, finishes and equipment that provide an awesome palette to design with.

Were you able to transform a section of Kingston/Saint Andrew, where would it be and why?

That's a tough choice considering the extent of transformation needed in most places of the city and the great potential they all have. Connecting the greater metropolitan area with pedestrian-friendly streets between the major public green spaces such as the waterfront, Parade, Heroes' Park, Cross Roads Park [Clocktower Square currently used as cinema parking], Mandela Park, Emancipation Park and Papine Square would be a great start. The lower and upper King Street corridor from the harbour to Heroes' Park would be a transformational project. Places like downtown and Half-Way-Tree are obvious choices.

Trench Town is a good place to transform. I am involved in the redevelopment of Trench Town, which sits just on the outside edge of downtown Kingston. This project seeks to awaken the community's invaluable tangible and intangible assets as catalysts for economic empowerment. Trench Town, the Government Yards in particular, is the birthplace of the genres of rocksteady and reggae music. In many ways Trench Town also served as the cradle for both Rastafari and Revivalism. The history and personalities existed within one of the most well-designed urban townships executed in Jamaica. The design was composed by the then Government town planner, David Spruell. The Government Yards, the Ambassador Theatre and Boys' Town Hall are some of the existing structures from the 1937 development plan. The Trench Town Culture Yard has been my first project in this redevelopment. We carried out the restoration of four heritage buildings and the intervention of entertainment and exhibition spaces. It was declared a National Heritage Site in 2006 and is a regularly visited museum which presents this phenomenal history to residents, locals and tourists alike. I am also the curator/director of the Culture Yard. The ability to effect meaningful change can be achieved through good architecture.

You are heavily involved in the revival of downtown. What fascinates you about downtown?

I would not say heavily involved in the revival at a professional level yet, but I have been a longtime advocate for considerable improvements to be made to the infrastructure downtown to make it a more desirable place to live and work. My maternal grandparents were from Gold Street so Kingston has a very special place in my consciousness. I also lived on the ninth floor at Ocean Towers for two years. It was an absolute delight to take the elevator down to the street level on a Saturday morning and walk out on Ocean Boulevard and up King Street and around the old city. There is a magic in Kingston that is worth investing in. It is the country's true urban place with high densities and an excellently designed and executed grid of streets and blocks sitting on the world's seventh largest natural harbour. I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of our people and rich culture with the urban fabric of the 300-year-old gridiron plan. The opportunities for creative expressions, both architecturally and otherwise, are boundless in such an environment.

Take us on an architectural journey of six countries.

Italy, Venice — The Island City with no cars. I'm not a car person. Cities are for people, not cars. Everything is romantic in Venice. The pedestrian takes priority. Stay on Lido Island and take a boat into Plaza San Marco every morning and spend the day leisurely walking around and absorbing all the facets of the Venetian culture, the food, the art and the atmosphere. Visit the islands of Burano and Murano.

Cuba, Havana — The Old City and the fortifications around the harbour. The Spanish had it right with their planning guidelines The Law of the Indies. Spend a week staying in the Old City. Experience The Paseo del Prado: true urban planning at its finest. Visitors should walk its entire length and interact with the people and activities that make this promenade invaluable for urban living.

Colombia, Cartagena — The Old Walled City…Preservation at its best. Take a boat ride to the off-shore islands and coastal fortifications. Spend a week in a 400-year-old restored villa with a courtyard. The city is a journey back hundreds of years infused with contemporary interventions hosting fantastic seafood and nightlife.

USA, New York, NY — The Skyscraper City. The city that never sleeps. There is no other super-city with the history and diversity of cultures co-existing in a potpourri of dynamism. The Guggenheim is still a treasured classic.

St Vincent and the Grenadines, Bequia — The best place to get away from it all. A peaceful tropical paradise. The beautiful people, food and ambience. Take a boat ride to the Tobago Keys.

Grand Cayman, Camana Bay — This one may seem like the oddball, but I visit annually and have carefully watched and experienced this new town rise from virgin lands [some swamp] over the last decade, and it is still growing. I reference this project because of its proximity to Jamaica and its fully integrated approach to excellent urban planning. This project integrates all aspects of residential, tourism, commercial, educational and recreational activities in a seamless transformational development. Camana Bay is contemporary urban case study to pay attention to.

Were you to speak to the Caribbean School of Architecture's graduating class of 2018, what would your charge be?

I would remind the students that architecture is not primarily about buildings but about people and experiences. Buildings are the constructions made to facilitate people and create the opportunity for those experiences to happen. Buildings can therefore be influencers of positive behaviour and conversely negative behaviour. Good architecture therefore comes from a good analysis of the context and users and rigour in the design process. I would charge the students to take every project seriously and remember each one is a reflection of their abilities.

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