BUILDING IN SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES (SVG)-
AN ARCHITECTURAL PERSPECTIVE
After nearly three decades of designing and project managing “high end” residential and commercial construction in the Caribbean and Bermuda, I am often asked by clients and casual enquirers how can they turn an initial interest to build in the region into the reality of a finished and successful project.
Whilst every enquiry comes from a different perspective and we all have a variety of desires, expectations and financial resources, there are some commonalities that elicit the advice I am happy to share with them.
Whether interested in a home, an investment residence, or a commercial development in SVG, the first step is to find a suitable site. In almost every case, this decision will have a huge impact on the future direction of the venture. Many properties here are built on steep slopes which require careful siting of the proposed buildings to maximise views and avoid unnecessary and expensive groundworks.
It is important to walk the site to determine the location of any services and to be aware of any surface drainage issues. Heavy tropical rainfall can create a risk of flooding on both steep and relatively level ground, but this can often be mitigated in the initial design phase if attention is paid to this important factor.
We would suggest investing in the best site your budget allows rather than trying to save money on an inferior site and spending later, on the design and construction of deep foundations, retaining walls, roadways, flood defences etc.
Some of the most common issues arise from the design of buildings on steep sites that have insufficient width along the hillside. The lack of width often means that the development is dug back into the hillside in an effort to create a large enough footprint. The result can be a lack of light at the rear of the property, high and unsightly retaining walls to hold back the excavated ground and a loss of the view to those unfortunate enough to be at the rear of the building. The lack of sunlight between the building and the rear retaining wall often creates an unattractive, hot, damp, and underused area cut off from the wonderful breezes we enjoy.
Designing a narrower building or series of buildings along the contours of the land creates structures in harmony with the landscape rather than being imposed upon it. Verandahs create shade where needed yet controlled light and breezes reach all rooms.
The wider site often leaves more room for an access driveway which does not require expensive support and retaining walls. Most buildings here have water cisterns below the ground floor slab to store rainwater from the roof: – the narrower buildings reduce the amount of excavation for these whilst smaller, differently orientated roofs can be very attractive and tend to shade more efficiently than monolithic ones.
It can be that potential buyers assume that they must buy an undeveloped site on which to build their desired project. However, there are existing buildings available that offer the chance to create something special. They are often on prime lots, having been chosen some years ago from a greater number and variety of available locations. These properties can be relatively inexpensive, given that they already have services, driveways, cisterns. The older properties may be poorly maintained but that can simply be either cosmetic or relating to areas of the building which you may wish to remove. Such buildings can often force the renovations and extensions to reflect design solutions that would otherwise not have been considered, resulting in a unique and interesting project. New sustainable and creative solutions can be designed, whether they be on existing or vacant properties.
Having met with many potential clients, I can attest that the least common subject of each initial conversation is the budget! It is understandable that financial matters can be difficult to raise but it is imperative that this be discussed, even in broad terms, as early on as possible since it drives so much of the process. Square feet pricing based on initial design sketches can quickly be generated to give an early budget price so that the client is comfortable with the process. This can be refined throughout the course of the design to retain financial rigor.
The Caribbean has an abundance of natural materials, and we admire the local stone, timber, and beautiful natural landscaping around us. Sustainable use of SVGs resources is critical and there are trusted and highly skilled landscapers, stone masons and carpenters who work creatively alongside the main contractors. Modern homes and commercial buildings can and should incorporate less traditional methods where appropriate, but experience has shown that if there is a low-tech proven solution to an issue, a reliance on technology is unlikely to supply a better answer in the Caribbean.
Many clients are from overseas and for them, the relative physical remoteness and unfamiliarity with SVGs legal framework, statutory requirements and local customs can be daunting. Being originally from Britain and having designed and built my current home in one Caribbean Island 900 miles from my home in another Caribbean Island, I understand that. However, I also know that with the right team and crucially, with modern communications, it’s a relatively straightforward process as we have access to architects, structural engineers, land, and quantity surveyors required to produce successful projects in SVG. We also regard our clients as very much part of the team; we listen carefully to their requirements and offer our experience and skills to guide them through the process.
Whatever your plans may be for developing in SVG, we feel that it’s important to be faithful to this location, enhance and preserve this environment and design a property that can be bring new ideas and appropriate technology but still reflects the landscape, culture and traditions of St. Vincent and the Grenadines whilst producing a development which adheres to your financial requirements.
Christopher, the author of the article, is a close friend and a family member who’s architectural and project management services I have used over the years.
Our recently added tranches of land in Mt Pleasant, Bequia have a gentle gradient with stunning views over the southern Grenadines Islands including Mustique and Union and offer the perfect position to build your dream house. For details click here.
For more information, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/WhatsApp