How often does the air in your office space recirculate? Do you know? Here in the BVI, as air-conditioning becomes pervasive, and operable windows slowly disappear, the answer is often “forever”. No, I’m not kidding. Forever. There are no set regulations on fresh-air exchange in mechanical systems. There is therefore little incentive for building owners and corporate project managers to ensure that it’s included since setting up a system which does not regularly have to cool fresh outdoor tropical air is technically more energy efficient.
I have to admit that I have historically not been a big fan of remodels. Working with existing buildings can be tricky. However, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, repair, remodeling, and expansion have taken on a whole different character and degree of importance in the Virgin Islands. Two of our recent remodels, at Sans Souci and Brandywine Estate Restaurant show the challenges, and the rewards of remodeling projects, and I’d like to share these with you.
- Originally published in VI Property and Yacht, Nov 2018 issue.
Over the last few months, our team has been working on the repair and remodeling of Brandywine Estate Restaurant. Hurricane Irma tore Brandywine Estate Restaurant apart. The low sloped and fabric roofs were ripped away from the outdoor eating areas, the shady gazebo was totally blown away and the landscaping was almost totally ripped out.
Earth sheltering can be defined as the architectural practice of using earth against building walls for external thermal mass, to reduce heat loss, and to naturally preserve a steady indoor air temperature. Earth sheltering is popular today among advocates of passive solar and sustainable architecture; we can notice this practice as far back as humans have been creating their own dwellings. In fact, having the walls of a building against the earth also helps prevent heat gain from solar radiation. It does not trap heat in a building if the building is otherwise well ventilated.
We have a surplus of sunny skies here in the Caribbean. This simple fact has long captured the imagination of architects, environmentalists and property owners and led us to the dream of powering our homes, schools and places of work with solar energy. This dream has been variously thwarted by economic, aesthetic, functional, and legislative challenges. Proponents of solar power continue to work on all these fronts, but from an architect’s point of view, solar has come a long way.
A contemporary architectural idiom that reflects the traditional vernacular, character, climate and culture of a place is an interesting challenge. For many architects this is the Holy Grail, allowing a freedom of “modern” design but being duly respectful of context.
Commercial and institutional buildings in the Caribbean have become less adapted to climate and environment in recent decades. We have gradually seen the advent of the air-conditioned, sealed box sometimes decorated with “traditional” elements as the standard model for office design.
Every region of the world has a ‘typical’ form of construction. This may vary between residential and commercial construction but normally reflects climatic conditions and resource availability. In the Caribbean, over the last twenty (20) years or so, the ‘typical’ form of construction has become reinforced concrete block.