Today, May 8th 2022, marks 10 years that I have been practicing as a Registered Architect in the Caribbean. It must be noted that the term Registered Architect is not one that should be used loosely. For clarity, for one to qualify as a Registered Architect this means that the individual has attained an accredited Master of Architecture degree and successfully completed the requisite registration course, examinations and interview as administered by the respective Board of Architecture and/or Institute of Architects. The average timeline to attain the esteemed title of Architect is 8 to 10 years.
That said, a building contractor is not an Architect, a draughtsman is not qualified to design buildings and Engineers are not qualified to do architectural designs. Similarly, Architects are not qualified to do structural, plumbing or electrical designs, nor are Architects contractors.
My journey as an Architect has been, to say the least, exhilarating. Architecture provides an opportunity to make a positive impact on society and by extension, the urban fabric. As profoundly stated by writer/poet/philosopher, Voltaire – “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do”. Being an Architect is an opportunity to contribute to a healthy society, to do good, and I am of the firm view that a large part of our societal problems is due to poor design. Undoubtedly, we are a product of our physical environment. How then do we expect to reap the benefits of a good society when, generally, we inhabit poorly designed spaces? The creation of intelligent, rational and well thinking minds is nurtured via the spaces that we inhabit on a daily basis, i.e., home, the office, school, church, recreational spaces, etc. and our journey to and fro. To comprehend the impact of physical spaces on society we must first agree that each space impacts the psychology of the mind. By this reasoning, we can appreciate that a prison should be designed differently from a hospital or a school, all having the characteristics specific to its typology.
A widespread example of the impact of poorly designed spaces is the increasing crime rate throughout the region. Criminal activities primarily emanate from poverty-stricken communities and high-density residential developments. In assessing these residential typologies, the usual identical conclusions are: poor lighting, poor ventilation, poor infrastructure (roads, drainage, garbage collection, etc.), little to no green space and typical hot dwelling boxes, all arranged to promote misery and conflict. It seems to be an architectural brutality the little design attention that is being paid to these communities. It is imperative that as a region we ensure that we do not deprive our people of equal opportunities to be the best possible version of a human being. This starts with implementing good and sound designs. One must also appreciate that each and every built structure has the responsibility of not only providing function, but comfort, a sense of place and security. Creating defensible spaces in urban structures (bridges, parks, pedestrian walkways, etc.) can, in effect, assist in mitigating crime. We need only look at the known hot spots and the general architectural vernacular of the area, clear evidence of the relationship between design and the product of an environment.
As an Architect I am charged with the social responsibility of creating places that foster a well thinking and progressive society. It therefore seems to be certain that the inequality instituted in our society is partly a biproduct of poor designs. Every person has the right to good design! We must allow our good senses to prevail and insist, both through private and public sector platforms, that mid and low-income homes are designed with quality of life in mind. This is not to say that all high-income homes are designed to promote quality of life. We need only look to the homes that are designed by unqualified persons. We must constantly examine and seek the interest of everyone. It is no surprise that the majority of developments are unable to positively contribute to the surrounding context due to unsound designs being implemented by untrained entities. The general conclusion regionally is that these developments are void of architecture and are adding to an already fatigued landscape. The same applies for commercial spaces, both private and government. All we need to do is examine the environment of these institutions, especially government institutions. They are generally of a poor standard, not suited to foster good public relations.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that during the recent lock-down, there was a massive 25% increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression. Further, the WHO called for countries to ramp up their mental health and psychosocial support as a part of their COVID-19 response plan. During the lockdown period most people faced having to stay/work from home. This forced persons to become more aware of the inefficiencies of their physical homes and the value that could be brought through spaces that are designed for a healthy lifestyle. Could it therefore be understood that one of the first lines of therapy is the physical spaces to which we are confined? If spaces are designed to be responsive to the characteristics that promote healthy living, then in effect, good mental health will be promoted in homes and institutions. A contributing factor to poor mental health is poorly designed spaces.
It would be remiss of me to not point out the role that state enterprise companies, the largest stakeholders in the development of urban projects, play in design implementation. There is an increasingly deep concern that there seems to be a growing disinterest in providing spaces to the public that are designed to nurture good environments. Their objective rather, seems to be to create intolerable spaces/buildings as the apparent notion is to primarily develop projects for the lowest price, without consideration for well-being and quality. Yet, there is an apparent expectation that by simply planting an office building that this will create jobs, create opportunities and positively impact the country’s GDP. This is partly a false sense of reality. The fact is that if spaces are not designed creatively, then creativity is crippled and has a lesser chance of actively playing a role in the development of our economy and society. We should also note the role of private developers in carrying out large-scale residential developments and their apparent sole objective being the bottom-line figure or return on investment. I appeal to your good senses, embrace empathy and desist from what can be considered a very discourteous investment in the future of our society. Take advantage of the investment opportunity to positively add to the development of social pride. Invest wisely through professional designs.
Practicing within the region for the past 10 years, I see it as my professional duty to bring to the fore just a few of the fundamental issues that emanate due to the absence of intelligent designs. Architecture is in essence a critical part of the solution to our societal issues. It is therefore imperative that projects, be it bridges, public spaces, private residences, commercial or institutional projects are serviced by a qualified Architect. Architecture presents an opportunity to mold a better society. Architects see and understand the global ramifications of design on our community, our culture and socio-economic power/status.
To my fellow professionals, be firm in your purpose, always examine the intention of the project, and ensure that we continue to strive to address the widespread societal problems through design. Be not dissuaded, but rather, be empowered through every opportunity provided to design for our society, our region and a sustainable future.
Jason Scarlett is the CEO and Principal Architect at FORM Architects Ltd. For comments and feedback, contact [email protected]