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10 Texture

10.1 Buildings

Roseau is a densely built and compact city. In Central Roseau the ownership of lots has fragmented in the span of time as a result of which the size of lots is very small. According to a study made in 1996 there are 1067 lots in the Inner City with an average size of 3133 square feet (291 sq.m). 425 lots have an area smaller than 1000 square feet (93 sq.m) of which 72 have even less than half of that (DNSP s.a.: 161).

Densely built wooden buildings cause a risk of fire. Fires have occurred in Roseau but lately none of them has caused any extensive destruction. One serious incident was at February 2000 when there was a fire in Old Street which is the most densely built section in Roseau. Because the incident happened early in the morning the streets were not yet congested, and the fire service reached the site fast enough. With aging electricity wiring and old wooden buildings, however, the historical district of the city is in danger, and demands for restoring the buildings are requested (Durand 2000).

Fire has destroyed Roseau several times, and it is also due to this fact that only few buildings with a history much longer than hundred years do exist in the city (Honychurch 1988: 22). Many people in Roseau tend to argue that the city was more historic. Previous Minister of Tourism Norris Prevost (1999: 5), for instance, says in a tourist magazine that in Roseau one can find buildings dating back to the 16th century. Same is argued by City Clerk Oliver St. John (1999) in an interview. Taken the fact that till the beginning of the 18th century Roseau was a Kalinago Indian village and no Kalinago buildings remain in the city the most ancient ones of the present buildings cannot be older than from the 18th century (see Chapter 7.2).

One of the oldest buildings is that of Cartwheel Café at the Bay Front, owned by Dupigny family (Fig. 25). It is a small cut-stone building; few larger ones exist on Hanover Street. Green (1999) assumes that they were not built by local people but by the Europeans. The wooden buildings in the city, on the other hand, are made by local people, and they represent the Caribbean vernacular style. According to Shillingford (1999), Roseau is the finest example of that style in a city-wide scale since most of the other historic cities in the region represent European architecture placed in the Caribbean.

Jan Morris (
1985) defines the Caribbean style of architecture in three terms: style of climate, style of substance, and style of purpose. In terms of climate Morris calls the Caribbean architecture a 'meteorological art-form'. He does not mean only the verandahs and wide eaves that protect the buildings from the sun. He maintains that the Caribbean climate with its sunshine, trade winds and tropical storms is more aestethic and sensual than any other climate in the world, and the architecture supports subtly the way of living adjusted to that climate. It is a non far niente form of architecture.

Style of Caribbean substance comes from local building materials which are combined with imported ones. Excluding the buildings of steel and concrete, the Caribbean architecture uses materials that are warm, tropic, easy-going, and mellow. Style of purpose, on the other hand, is created by slaves, slave-masters, money-makers, and hedonists--the very same people that according to Morris have created the Caribbean society. As Caribbean received no Pilgrim Fathers nor other idealistic refugees the architecture of the region is on the one hand showy, on the other one down-to-earth.

Vernacular architecture of Dominica responds to those same instances. Traditional 'Dominica house' is basically an ajoupa hut of the Kalinagos with walls added (Fig. 26). It has a 'hurricane roof' that lets both the heavy winds of the hurricanes and more gentle breezes of the trade winds to traverse the house. According to Green (1999), the majority of the buildings in the Inner City of Roseau are some kinds of variants of the 'Dominica house'. As a matter of fact, when the Hurricane David passed over Roseau in 1979, most destruction was caused to new concrete buildings. Traditional buildings, even the shanty houses of Pound and Potter's Ville (see Fig. 18) showed greater resistance to the winds (Shillingford 1999). Green believes that the key factor here is the roof: steep roof of the traditional houses is more resistant to the winds than the low roofs that are common in modern architecture.

The showy side of the Dominican architecture is present in the verandahs and balconies. Verandahs are, however, basically an extension to the original ajoupa style but they have been often added to gable style buildings, too (Green 1999). One of the best examples of the use of verandah's is the public library of Roseau built in Georgian style. Balconies, on the other hand, often hang over the sidewalks (Fig. 27). Especially in the Inner City, often these balconies are decorated with fretwork, and windows have jalousie louvres. David Buisseret (1984: 6) says that these balconies give a French atmosphere to Roseau, and maintains that one could imagine oneself to a small town in the Midi region instead of being in the Caribbean.

Also traditional vernacular style is renewed. The building of Alliance Française built in 1989 to the northern corner of the Botanical Gardens is an example of that (Fig. 28). Green (1999), who has designed the building, says that it has inspired people to rethink their buildings and appreciate more the traditional Dominican architecture.

New buildings are being constructed throughout Roseau in a steady flux. This gives somewhat dynamic and also an incomplete character to the city. The latter is emphasized by the widespread manner of building only the ground floor of a two or three-storey building, and leave the upper floors unbuilt. These kind of unfinished buildings are found many, e.g. La Robe Creole restaurant opposite to Peebles Park, and CeeBee's bookstore on Cork Street (Fig. 29).


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