Architectural Heritage with Rudylynn Roberts

An abstract representation of "Progress" in Trinidad. Here we see past, present and future all in one image.

On November 6th I attended a lecture at UWI given by Rudylynn Roberts about architectural heritage. For the past two or so months I've been wondering exactly what architectural heritage means, i.e. why do we consider certain edifices and/or houses to be important enough for later generations to experience? It’s not as if I do not perceive the nostalgia of these buildings, but what exactly do they say about the culture? Of course, some buildings clearly represent the past; there are old colonial buildings from different eras including the Spanish, French and whoever else. Interestingly enough many of the architects were not Trinidadian, which added to my confusion. Why are these pre-independent buildings culturally significant even though the Trinidadian imagination is exempt? What do they have to offer a modern society, besides a pretty version of a not-so distant, tormented past?
I read Architectural Heritage of the Caribbean by Andrew Gravette hoping to get a straight-forward understanding of the meaning of the term. The first few words in the first chapter talked about climate and emphasized how important it was for architecture to be able to survive within the natural surroundings. One of the simplest ideas I initially overlooked was the fact that the Spaniards who came here probably knew little about construction, so they would have had to follow an already established (working) structure. They took ideas from the Amerindians (Ajoupa) and incorporated some of their own ideas to make a Creole version of what they were accustomed to seeing. This implies that every structure has some element of Amerindian influence and therefore has some value to a society that knows little about Amerindians. And as the years passed by, even the imported peoples found ways to integrate their modifications on the Trinidadian "style".

In conjunction with Mrs. Roberts talk, I gathered that the main reason for dubbing buildings culturally symbolic and representative of heritage has to do with: 1. the effectiveness of the building within the natural surroundings and 2. the creativity of the architect. According to Mrs. Roberts, it's not about the original nationality of the architect, but their intent for creating the designs. On the other hand, nationality is important to note for the people who labored to make the imagined designs come into existence. The houses were built by Trinidadians and designed by foreigners for Trinidad. So we have to look at architecture as an important aspect of Trinidadian heritage because it implicitly connects the people to a tangible structure.
The talk as well as some of my own photographic evidence highlighted aspects of Trinidadian architecture that are somewhat unique to the country. The tiles, fretwork and glass used generally added charm while increasing functionality within the environment. Even though some of the materials were imported to Trinidad, the way they were implemented is what made it unique to the region. I have been trying to document these rapidly disappearing houses. Just by existing in this modern society, these houses silently impose a kind of significance. Christopher Cozier mentioned how the same architecture people are getting rid of now had once been tourist attractions. Exactly what has replaced this type of attraction? Will people come to Trinidad to see the big skyscrapers and large industrial factories? For now, it seems as though the government and most citizens are disinterested in trying to preserve a past window into their history and artistry. Trinidad does not value what they had, instead they insist on knocking down the old in favor of propagating an image of a modern and developing nation. Perhaps, they are trying to free themselves from this notion of being a tourist island and working on having a more sustainable economy.


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