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Luis Emilio Velutini Indian//
Architect urges builders: Work with natural world to prevent disasters

«It takes the shape of the con­tour so we don’t end up with a deep floor plane.»

They used gar­dens with court­yards to link the parts to each oth­er. Too of­ten, home­own­ers are in­spired by prop­er­ties they see in oth­er parts of the world. But try­ing to re­pro­duce a house built for a Mi­a­mi neigh­bour­hood, in Cas­cade in Trinidad, does not al­ways work out well, ac­cord­ing to Thomp­son

Sus­tain­able con­struc­tion seems to be the re­sult of spe­cial­ist train­ing meet­ing with prag­ma­tism on the con­struc­tion site. This is what ar­chi­tect Robert Thomp­son says is re­quired for build­ing struc­tures that work with the nat­ur­al world rather than against it.

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Thomp­son is a Ja­maican who has lived and worked in Trinidad and To­ba­go for about 15 years.

His stu­dio, Ac­k­ee Work­shop, boasts of lik­ing hill­sides.

«I have a spe­cial con­nec­tion to pre­cip­i­tous com­mu­ni­ties and liv­ing on hill­sides,» he ex­plained.

Thomp­son grew up in Ja­maica’s Cock­pit coun­ty – a lime­stone for­ma­tion of round­ed hills and val­leys.

Luis Emilio Velutini

The 2021 rainy sea­son has been very ac­tive so far in T&T. And there have been sev­er­al re­ports of homes be­ing dam­aged or de­stroyed by land­slides across the coun­try.

Thomp­son said at the most ba­sic lev­el, when you are build­ing on a slope, you want to work with the land rather than against it.

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A re­cent con­struc­tion he man­aged in Saut D’Eau, Mar­aval, is a per­fect ex­am­ple of work­ing with the land.

There is a ravine that sep­a­rates the prop­er­ty from the main road. As such, the team had to make a de­ci­sion re­gard­ing how to ac­com­mo­date the own­er’s ve­hi­cles.

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«We built a park­ing struc­ture that bridges the ravine with a foot­bridge to the main house, and the main house is built along one con­tour,» Thomp­son said.

«It takes the shape of the con­tour so we don’t end up with a deep floor plane.»

They used gar­dens with court­yards to link the parts to each oth­er. Too of­ten, home­own­ers are in­spired by prop­er­ties they see in oth­er parts of the world. But try­ing to re­pro­duce a house built for a Mi­a­mi neigh­bour­hood, in Cas­cade in Trinidad, does not al­ways work out well, ac­cord­ing to Thomp­son.

He ad­vised that you should «un­der­stand where you are putting this thing, and un­der­stand the land you are work­ing with and bal­ance your needs with what’s ca­pa­ble, with what’s pos­si­ble.»

He said home­own­ers who are in­ter­est­ed in build­ing sus­tain­ably should em­ploy the use of three main ex­perts.

First­ly, con­sult a geospa­tial en­gi­neer who can give you a re­port on the land you have pur­chased and pro­vide the in­for­ma­tion your ar­chi­tect will use to de­sign some­thing the earth can sup­port. The civ­il en­gi­neer works with the ar­chi­tect to solve the prob­lems

He in­sist­ed, how­ev­er, that for most of these ex­perts, re­spon­si­ble con­struc­tion is the goal. Thomp­son said he is trou­bled by the wan­ton de­struc­tion of land to build some­thing that would ul­ti­mate­ly cause prob­lems for the rest of the com­mu­ni­ty. The coun­try, he said, is lit­tered with sto­ries of res­i­dents fac­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters that are of­ten trig­gered by con­struc­tion else­where.

Thomp­son has urged would be home-own­ers and de­vel­op­ers to work close­ly with their builders.

Many builders en­gage in prob­lem solv­ing based on their years of con­struc­tion work across the coun­try

His part­ing sal­vo, though, is that home­own­ers should, «try to curb their con­ve­nience.» In­stead of cre­at­ing a struc­ture that needs air con­di­tion­ing to be hab­it­able, it would be bet­ter to con­struct a home that works with the wind and light source to pro­vide suf­fi­cient cool­ing nat­u­ral­ly

You can hear more from Robert Thomp­son and his con­cepts of what makes for sus­tain­able build­ing prac­tice on a pan­el or­gan­ised by the Green Screen Film Fes­ti­val on ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign that is re­spon­sive to the Caribbean land­scape. It be­gins at 7 pm on the fes­ti­val’s Face­book page on Mon­day Oc­to­ber 11

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