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The Carenage: St. George’s Cultural Promenade

December 18, 2013

:: By Irina Kostka ::

Carenage House of Dance (Irina Kostka)

Carenage House of Dance (Irina Kostka 2013)

 

The nature of the human spirit is largely dependent on the physical environment in which it exists. It can influence the standard of living and the rate of development. The psychological and social impact of Architecture is often underestimated, especially in developing countries. I was fortunate enough to have been born and raised in Grenada but unfortunately, like other developing countries, there is little planning and public engagement when it comes to the development of the built environment.

Grenada has a tropical climate with year round temperatures between 24-33 degrees Celsius. Its climate and enchanting landscape makes Grenada the perfect island destination. As a result, tourism has become Grenada’s main source of income. Much revolves, and is based on tourism. Sad to say, where tourism is placed in the foreground, recreational and cultural facilities for the people of Grenada are often negligible.

The capital of St. George’s, with a population of about 7,500, is located on the south western coast of the island, on the Caribbean Sea. The town is situated on the slopes of an ancient volcano crater, forming a natural horseshoe-shaped harbour, the Carenage. The natural conditions of St. George’s make it difficult to expand its boundaries.

St. George’s is a mixed area with a concentration of businesses at the waterfront and the city center and residential houses distributed along its slopes. Selectively distributed throughout the town are churches of various Christian denominations. These churches are often associated with schools and / or monasteries, as most schools were founded by the churches.

Esplenade & Carenage

The town of St. George’s has seen a substantial amount of development over the past 10 years, most of which is associated with the development of the tourism industry on the Island. In 2005, a new cruise ship terminal, along with two shopping centers and other buildings were built along the Esplenade, an artificially heaped coastal area. Unfortunately, although the boundaries of St. George’s were expanded, no provisions were made for public spaces. All remaining spaces have been alotted either to new buildings, or are currently being used as parking spaces. This is a general problem faced in Grenada, especially in St. George’s. Public and recreational spaces are not only underdeveloped but in several cases, have been encroached upon to facilitate financial and economic growth. Why aren’t alternative provisions made? Provisions which would benefit the social well-being of the people while at the same time enabling financial growth?

The Carenage, in St. George’s is one of the most picturesque harbours in the Caribbean. It was previously the point of arrival for both cruise and cargo ships. However, since the completion of the new cruise ship terminal and shopping center closer to the town center, it solely functions as a shipping port. Whereas previously, the Carenage was lined with cafes, souvenir shops and restaurants, today, several buildings stand desolate or function mainly as offices, supermarkets or hardware stores.

The Carenage Reimagined (Irina Kostka 2013)

The Carenage Reimagined (Irina Kostka 2013)

 

Creating spaces where people can thrive and grow is what most architects dream of achieving. I am no different. My passion for Grenada led me to choose St. George’s as the focal point of my architecture graduate thesis, in particular, the Carenage area. The main objective of the thesis, completed at the Leibniz University of Hanover in Germany, is to reanimate the Carenage, transforming it into a recreational space where tourists and locals alike, can enjoy the natural habour and the beauty of the old town.

In order to achieve this goal I suggest the execution and implementation of the following points:

  1. The building of a connecting footpath around the peninsula separating the Carenage from the town center. This makes a pleasant change from the slightly claustrophobic tunnel which currently functions as the main connection.
  2. The expansion of the harbour boardwalk.
  3. The planting of leafy, fast growing trees to create shaded areas along the promenade.
  4. The rearrangement of the parking spaces allowing more parking spaces, intertwined with green areas.
  5. The implementation of specific areas along the promenade designed to attract both locals and tourist, for instance, a market, fish market and recreational spaces.
  6. The allocation of spaces for cultural use. Unfortunately, there are very few cultural facilities in St. George’s. To be precise, there is the public library, (closed for the past two years), the National Museum, and a few art galleries. Hence, it is proposed to allocate four sites towards building:
      • A Poetry Pavilion in connection with the public library
      • A House of Dance
      • A House of Music
      • A House of Art Performances

The Grenadian culture is extremely rich and diverse. Its origins lie in the European (in particular French and British), Indian and African cultures. Our culture is vibrant and alive. It’s presence being felt in song and dance at every possible occasion, both formally and informally. Grenadians revel in the enjoyment of music. Unfortunately, there are no facilities for the official advancement of culture in Grenada. Cultural performances are often held in schools, the old cinema, the Trade Center or the Spice Basket Cultural Facility outside of St. George’s. Historically, Grenada has never had a space specifically designated as a space for cultural incubation. This can be traced back to the beginning of the colonial era, where mainly existential buildings were erected. Cultural facilities were omitted, especially recreational and cultural facilities for the enslaved people. They had no choice but to exercise their culture and traditions in the open and that only on special occasions.

The implementation of the cultural houses along the Carenage aims to promote the development of Culture nationally, while at the same time creating a link between visitors and locals. Quite often, tourists are alienated from the actual essence of the country, its people and culture. In this way, visitors can enjoy the culture of Grenada, while Grenadians have public spaces where the can develop their creative practices.

Apart from the urban proposals towards the development of the Carenage, the project incorporates two concrete design ideas for the House of Dance and the House of Music. These are to be community spaces, open to the general public. The designs of both the House of Dance and the House of Music follow the same design concepts:

  • Orientation in the direction of both the Carenage and the parallel H. A. Blaze Street.
  • Additive design; the designs adapt to those of the surrounding buildings in terms of the roof structure.
  • Use of elements found in Caribbean architecture, for example, stairs used for recreational purposes and verandahs.
  • Cantilevers over large openings as a means of protective sun shading.
Carenage House of Music (Irina Kostka 2013)

Carenage House of Music (Irina Kostka 2013)

 

The House of Dance offers several dance practice rooms as well as a performance area on the roof. Visitors enter a large, double level foyer from where they have a direct view into several of the dance spaces. Changing and sanitary rooms for dancers are situated towards the left, with a separate private stairway to the upper floor and dance rooms. Behind the House of Dance, connected by a small courtyard, is an existing building, renovated and converted into an art studio for local artists with a small coffee shop on the ground floor.

The House of Music comprises of several practice rooms, a music studio, an office and storage room. Unlike the House of Dance, the House of Music has no main entrance. All practice spaces are open to the outside yet connected by a covered walkway, allowing music to waft to the surrounding areas, encouraging visitors to enter.

The building connects the Carenage to the parallel lying H. A. Blaze Street via its open walkways, allowing pedestrians to walk through unhindered. A courtyard, allows for a semi-secluded area where musicians can practice their craft open air.

Both buildings have been designed to suit the Caribbean climate with the provision of shaded areas, high ceilings and large openings for ventilation.

The facades of both buildings have large openings emphasizing the orientation towards the Carenage to the front and the H. A. Blaze Street to the back. As a result of the buildings’ close proximity to the neighbouring buildings, the side facades are mainly closed, with smaller openings for cross ventilation.

My desire as an Architecture Graduate, but foremost as a Grenadian, is to see the constructive development of the Carenage and St. George’s on a whole. I believe that this thesis could be the start to creating a vibrant and unique urban space, one which intimately reflects the heritage, culture and character of our people.

The Carenage (Irina Kostka 2013)

The Carenage (Irina Kostka 2013)

 

__________________

 Irina Kostka

Irina Kostka

Irina Kostka is a Grenadian architecture graduate. She has recently returned to Grenada after having studied at the Leibniz University of Hanover, Germany, along with a 5 month study abroad period at the University of Queenland in Brisbane, Australia.  She now works with the award winning architecture firm COCOA (Caribbean Office of Contemporary Architecture). Contact Irina about the Carenage project at irie.kostka@gmail.com

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Moyah Boy permalink
    December 18, 2013 4:55 pm

    Very ambitious plans Irina. However I must take strong issue with the view that there Grenada has never had a space specifically designated as a space for cultural incubation. But then again it depends on what you choose to define as “space” and “cultural incubation”! Grenadian art is, of course, expressed in the annual carnival (incubated in – and expressed on- our streets for more than a hundred years). It develops in the workshops of the costume designers who, year and year, drive their artistic attributes towards the great kinetic experiences we feel and marvel at. It’s incubated in the homes of the great calypsonians and in the sheds of our musicians…..read Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance to appreciate how Caribbean art doesn’t need the sterile, emasculating strictures of the European sensibility in production or appreciation. Caribbean art is rightly a political act that find its voice on the street – accessible, public- not fetishied in a museum, or behind a velvet rope for the entertainment of tourists or those who cannot fully engage with the legacy of Grenadian slavery and colonialism. Of course, as an architect that doesn’t immediately help you..but perhaps you should think again about the cultural origins of the Grenadian people – in its correct order: African/European/Asian- and think of how you can design venues that best utilise the common spaces that people use – to synergise art, history, space. Back to the drawing board perhaps?

    • Groundation Grenada Action Collective permalink*
      December 19, 2013 6:32 pm

      Moyah Boy, thank you for taking the time to engage with Irina on this issue. Please see her response in the comments below.

      – Groundation Team

    • Ian otway permalink
      December 20, 2013 7:51 am

      Did not mean to Engage In this Trap by “Moyah”Boy”…… You seem to be a Perfect Example of our people’s mindset [ just my opinion ] Grenadians might want to take a moment to see things in a Different light before posting their free comments.Remember,”The Person Who Says It cannot Be Done,should not Interrupt the person doing It” ….It Can Be Done , and without you

  2. December 19, 2013 10:28 am

    Moyah Boy, your post is the very essence of why Grenada has remained as backward and out of touch with the reality of development since 1979. Irina, let not the voices of those who would see us continue to shap our future by the chains of our past. Your plans are visionary, and I have longed for someone… ANYONE to realize the potential that the Carenage (one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the Caribbean) has to offer. Duty free shopping, fine dining and cultural centre for walking traffic only is the best utilization of this beautiful natural resource. It is a model already sucessfully implemente in Aruba, Curacao and St.Maarten.

  3. Irina Kostka permalink
    December 19, 2013 6:28 pm

    Moyah Boy, you wonderfully explained why there has never been a space specifically and I reiterate on the word ‘specifically’ designed for cultural incubation. Yes our culture grows in sheds and in homes…but how far has that gotten us so far. It is time to take our culture seriously, take it to another level, elevate from an informally created culture to a culture that we ourselves take serious enough to portray it to the world. Whether we invite the world to our sheds, gardens, homes to take part in (note:take part in not only view) our culture, or we portray ourselves from a stage is up to us. I’m not sure if you followed the essence of the thesis but it is not only intended as a way to attract more tourists, but for the betterment and development of our people. the grenadian people.
    Thank you Georgie for your support.

  4. December 21, 2013 3:58 pm

    Very interesting comments. As a non-Grenadian (I live in Jamaica) who visited your beautiful island for the first time this year, I admire your vision and agree with the huge need for public spaces, and cultural spaces (this is absolutely true of Jamaica, too). I think that Caribbean culture is about much more than carnival in the street once a year. As Irina says above, take it to another level and it’s amazing what we can achieve…. Well, I walked right round the Carenage by myself while visiting Grenada this year, and as a “tourist” took lots of photos. It’s a beautiful spot, and very sheltered. And it did seem to be a backwater. I can see the potential and of course – it would not just be for tourists but Grenadians would greatly benefit too, both culturally AND economically. I wish you luck with your project and will share this with architects I know in Jamaica. (Where can you get funding I wonder?)

    • December 26, 2013 9:17 am

      Thank you very much for your positive comments. Funding is a big question…the most obvious answer to Caribbean funding usually comes from outside. At this point I would like to generate as much interest as possible in the hope that persons interested may be able to help with the question of funding….

  5. December 22, 2013 10:20 pm

    Irina, Your creative thinking is a breath of fresh air. I especially like your idea of preserving the historic buildings, even with the new ideas to combine shopping, culture, and recreation. We are blessed with the amphitheater structure of the Carenage. Your ideas will definitely help to enhance not only its beauty, but it’s functionality for Grenadians and visitors alike. I applaud your hard work and ‘out-of-the box’ thinking!

    • irinakostka permalink
      December 27, 2013 9:00 am

      Thank you! Much appreciated!

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