Our Readers' Opinions
May 18, 2007
Building on the Iron Man Site Pt-2

by Oswald Fereira 18.MAY.07

IN DESIGNING future buildings in Kingstown careful consideration should be given to the basic principles of urban design, things such as:

• Context – the pattern, age and value of surrounding buildings, pedestrian movement, natural features, local landmarks and a future vision for surrounding lands. It is in such a context that the appropriate form and design of the new buildings should be determined.{{more}}

• Scale – the new buildings should relate to the scale and location of its surroundings, including any distinctive historical architectural forms.

• Function – the new buildings must be people friendly and must relate to the street. There needs to be continuity from the street into the building. As people must use these buildings there needs to be recognition of pedestrian scale in terms of people movement and features such as landscaping, benches and open space. When a building footprint takes up almost 100% of the site there is no room for these other important elements of urban design.

• Sense of place – people need to have a feeling of place, there must be a “there” there. There must be connectivity along the street.

• Local input – the citizens of Kingstown and St. Vincent for that matter are sure to have opinions as to how their Capital City should be developed. They should be allowed input in the design of any new buildings.

I returned to St. Vincent in April 2007 and my opinion of this BIG building has not changed. In comparison, the new Government Building on the waterfront, the new Central Water Authority Building at Montrose and the new building at the Grenadine Wharf all look in scale with their surroundings. They appear to function well and are beautiful additions to the architecture of Kingstown.

In my opinion this building needs to be modified in order to make it more functional. The entrances need to be changed to make them relate more to the streets and draw people into the building. As a market, there is no need for blank, windowless walls on the main floor. Given the history of an open air market on the site, windows should be created on the Main floor to create an open feel to the market function. The vista along Middle Street needs to be opened up again. Yes, with modern engineering this should be possible. If buttressed arches are placed under the first floor along the old Middle Street right-of-way, arches could be cut in the north and south faces of the building to open up the old Middle Street as a pedestrian mall through the building and from this pedestrian mall there could be several large openings into the main floor of the building making it very “people friendly” and it would relate more to the street. From a pedestrian point of view the ability to walk again along all of Middle Street would be most welcomed and Kingstown will loose the feeling of disjointedness that this building poses. In order to modify the feeling of bulk, some of the blank walls could be painted with local art and become a tourist attraction.

In terms of what could have been accomplished at the site, if I was to play designer, here are some of the design elements that I believe would have been more appropriate for the site:

• It would not be designed as a vegetable market. This site is and should be developed as a Town centre.

• Open space, landscaping and retention of Middle Street would be prime elements.

• The building footprint would definitely not be so monstrous. Instead a series of smaller building would be more appropriate to the scale of the surroundings.

•I would consider incorporating the arched covered sidewalks with paving stones to mimic the old cobble stoned sidewalks of old.

• I would consider buildings of at least four stories. We can no longer create land in Kingstown so we must consider building UP.

• A mixture of uses would be considered to make the area more attractive to pedestrian movement.

Given these design elements, how might the area look? I see a semi circle of individual buildings from Back Street along the south side of the site and on to Bay Street, all four stories high. The exterior would have the arched, covered sidewalks with paving stones to provide shelter and to encourage pedestrian movement along the entire site and to encourage movement into the buildings. The four stories would be stepped as the height increased to reduce the feeling of bulk. The main floor would have shops, stores, restaurants. The second floor would house professional offices and the upper floors would be residential space. Yes, think of the many people who come to St. Vincent to work on short assignments, or young professionals who need a place to live before they are ready to form families, they would gladly use this accommodation. And as one walks south on Middle Street, it would be open all the way into a semi-circular space to recreate the old Market Square (facing Veira’s building) where the iron Man could be placed on his pedestal in a landscaped area with benches where people could sit and our political history could continue. I believe that such a design would have been more appropriate and the BIG building could have been allowed to become a MASTERPIECE, a flagship at a location on the reclaimed foreshore.

My thanks to the Editor for allowing me to voice my opinion on this subject and I hope to have some follow up articles in the upcoming weeks on my observations while visiting my place of birth.

Oswald Fereira is an Urban Planner living and working in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was Manager of the Central Water authority before he left St. Vincent in 1975.