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Two million dollars. That’s the estimated cost of repairing the virtually new Supreme Court Complex. And that’s what set me thinking about how our local architects design.
Up front, I know nothing about architecture or building design, but there is common sense. We have at least two other major buildings languishing because of sick building syndrome – the old National Insurance building on Fairchild Street and the Treasury Building, both in The City – all built at a cost of millions of taxpayers’ dollars.
Here’s what bothers my common sense. Our local boys go north – United States or Europe – and study architecture, then return to the Caribbean and design as if we’re in the US or Europe. In the Caribbean, we have loads of fresh breeze and tons of natural sunlight all year round. But here’s how our North-trained architects design:
1) Buildings are nearly completely windowless. So they need air-conditioning. This is then set to something like 17°C, so cold that the poor employees have to shiver in sweaters all day long. This senseless temperature gradient is maintained by electricity, costing thousands of dollars monthly – a silly waste of money and a thoughtless abuse of staff.
2) Should the electricity go off, without windows, these buildings rapidly become furnaces and have to be evacuated. Work stops dead.
3) The buildings usually feature large plate glass panels – you’d think designed to use natural light. Wrong. These panels are then fitted with thick curtains which are drawn. You then have to turn on artificial lighting in order to work during the day. Stupid.
4) The AC systems usually employ long tube-like ducting systems that snake throughout the building, dark and moist – a perfect environment for various micro-organisms like fungi. Whenever you hear about a sick building, nine times out of ten the cause is a mouldy, clogged-up duct system.
So my question is: why can’t our boys simply use the knowledge gained up North, but mate it with common sense solutions appropriate to our environment?
Like, restrict AC use to areas that absolutely need it, but design other areas to use natural air flow. (Google this: www.fastcompany.com/3052649/this-building-doesnt-need-a-c-the-building-itself-is-an-air-conditioner). And where AC use is absolutely required, set it to a sensible level like 21° to 24°C, rather than a bone-shaking and wasteful 17°C.
One retort is that computers need to be cool. So put these huge servers in their own room and freeze them there. Humans shouldn’t have to suffer to keep computers happy.
Secondly, use natural light during the daytime. Light, of course, comes with heat, but there are simple solutions that absorb infra-red (heat) and let the light through.
This may all require a paradigm shift, but we’ve copied the bad habits of the North for too long. We’ve blindly followed their bad food habits (which are now killing us), their fossil-burning habits (now killing our environment), their plastic throw-away habit (now poisoning landfills, rivers and seas), their building habits (now sickening both buildings and humans), and more recently, their human rights habits (about to destroy our morality and homes).
Isn’t it time we started thinking for ourselves?
– TREVOR R. SHEPHERD