A Brief History of Caribbean Architecture

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Architectural influences in the Caribbean are lively, eclectic and intriguing due to the many cultures that have journeyed over and laid roots in the region. Present day home styles and design derive primarily from the Ameridian, African, Dutch, Spanish, French and other European Colonial cultures. This diversity creates an interesting mix of color, design and construction, all of which are present in today’s island residences.

The present day Caribbean-based architect and designer has the exquisite assignment of working with many different styles, combining the old with the new in an idyllic yet sometimes challenging landscape. Weather plays an important part in the construction, placement and design of the home due to imposing weather patterns. It is important to stay cool during the generally consistent 80 degree temperatures by creating the maximum amount of ventilation and shade.  Placement and design of the structure also play an important part in avoiding hurricane damage.  Residences are usually positioned to avoid direct damage from prevailing hurricane winds and have hurricane shutters and reinforced ventilated roofs. Many homes are designed with covered open spaces to allow comfortable outdoor living and shaded movement from one area to another. Vaulted ceilings to redirect the heat have become the standard as well as decorative open design walls and ironwork that allow breezes to pass through yet provide some privacy.

The design elements and materials used to construct Caribbean homes have evolved over time. The original one-story West Indian home first introduced the use of wood and thatch and later masonry. Present day homes often use stone, concrete and masonry. The African influence can be noted in the rich colors, bold design and in murals and artwork that decorate the homes. The Spanish influenced the architectural design with large verandas and community plazas; the Dutch, and French, Spanish and other Colonial European cultures introduced fancy design and iron work and second story structures, all leading to an eclectic and charming Caribbean ambience.

While building a custom home in the Caribbean can be a dream come true, many of the materials, even when building a “green” home, need to be imported which can add to the cost and length of time needed to complete the building process. Fortunately the use of concrete and natural indigenous stone has helped to reduce the importation of materials.

Presently, sustainable building – also known as green building or green construction – has become an important movement in the Caribbean in an attempt to preserve the natural beauty and resources of these exquisite islands. Sustainable building incorporates both old and new building styles in the efficient use of natural resources. Native stone is often used to build retaining and interior walls and solar powered electric systems are installed to reduce waste and pollution. The landscape is designed to allow for natural drainage and maintenance of indigenous plants without disrupting its natural beauty. It is important for all parties, builders and designers, to collaborate during the construction and design process. Sustainable building can be applied to renovation as well as new construction to provide a low maintenance green construction luxury home.

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