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Will the Pandemic Make Us Rethink Indoor/Outdoor Living?

There could be more of a demand for open-plan spaces which allows for natural light, ventilation, connection to nature and the general promotion of wellness”

It’s day 47 of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations in Grenada. It could very well be the last day of restrictions to freedom of movement which has required every person to shelter in place inclusive of your yard space. While leaders navigate the fluidity of the situation, we’ll all have to adapt to this new way of living, socialising and existing.

If there was a badge of honour for citizen compliance, I feel like I’d be among the top 10 awardees. I accepted my fate and became one with the interior and exterior spaces in my apartment, cause quite frankly I want the curve flattened so we can gather up what’s left of the year 2020. 

While my thoughts and concerns are with those who are less fortunate, I also acknowledged that my space and the way it is designed supported me through this pandemic mentally. I’ve felt safe and comfortable within these walls, which has made confinement more manageable. 

If I had to go through this again, which I wouldn’t wish on our earth in a million years, I want to do so in a space that brings me closer to nature’s elements, whether that be a floor to ceiling window, open plan living room or rooftop garden with a pool.

My apartment is an original Bryan Bullen design. He is an Architect and the Director of the award-winning firm Caribbean Office of Co-operative Architecture (COCOA). Since its inception in Grenada, COCOA has produced a growing portfolio of work that engages our experiences of contemporary culture. They are a gamechanger in the Caribbean, and you only have to look at their impressive residential, commercial and institutional projects here to see why. 

Might I add, that Bryan’s VB2 residential project provided the backdrop for the launch shoot for my website and blog in 2018. I had a chat with Bryan about his journey and the future of architecture in Grenada and the Caribbean.

A chat with Bryan…

Kiki: Where are you currently riding out the Pandemic? 

Bryan: I’m in La Sagesse Heights, St. David’s! I’m originally from Maribeau, St. Andrew’s. I am Grenadian by birth, and although I’ve spent my formative years in Canada, I’ve always retained a strong connection to the Caribbean. Subsequently, I felt it was important for me to return to the place where I have a kindred spirit, so this is where I am. 

Kiki: I can’t say I’m not jealous of the space you’re in right now. Tell me about your journey to becoming an Architect? 

Bryan: I am a creative soul at heart and was lucky to have grown up in a household which nurtured my innovative drive and freedom of expression. My father practised as an architect which exposed me to design from a tender age, although it took some time before I realized that I wanted to pursue architecture as my profession. When I did, I completed a degree in art and industrial design at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). I first operated my design-build studio, Analog, in Toronto, where I worked with architects building innovative installations for clients. That experience furthered my love of architecture which lead me to study at the world-renown Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC) in Los Angeles. That’s where I completed a Masters of Architecture degree under the tutelage of the late architect Raymond Kappe.  

Kiki: Wow, what a journey! Tell me more about practising Architecture and setting up a firm in Grenada?  

Bryan: Without a doubt, architecture has provided me with a creative outlet; however, I feel that I have a social responsibility to ensure that my buildings enhance the lives of occupants while respecting the environment and sites where they are built. When I graduated from SCI-ARC, I worked briefly at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark and then for the late architect, Roger Turton in Trinidad before returning to Grenada to set up my practice. Two factors drove my decision to settle in Grenada. Firstly, the peace and ‘slowness’ of island life. Secondly, my desire to improve the built environment and to provide a good design that can have a positive impact on the lives of our people. 

Kiki: This idea that your space should enhance your life resonates with me right now. Tell me more? 

Bryan: I believe in doing the simple things well, and only deploying complexity where it serves a specific purpose. I focus on the overall design strategy, like working with the natural landscape rather than working against it. Deploying building methods which are compatible with the environment, are sustainable, and will ensure the longest possible lifecycle for my buildings. In the tropics, open-plan spaces make sense as they provide good airflow. Covered verandas, courtyards and spaces which have a direct connection to the natural surroundings tend to fit well in their setting. Additionally, the use of indigenous materials such a locally quarried stone, and local timber give buildings an appearance of being one with their place.        

Kiki: Do you think the COVID-19 Pandemic will have an impact on residential design? 

Bryan: Yes I do think the Pandemic will necessitate a change in people’s attitudes towards the design and function of their homes. In which case, there could be more of a demand for open-plan spaces which allows for natural light, ventilation, connection to nature and the general promotion of ‘wellness’. In which case, organizing spaces and selecting materials and finishes that can sanitize easily will be an important factor. Also, the concept of working from home (WFH), will be ingrained in our collective consciousness, will require workspaces to be accommodated within our domestic environments.

Kiki: Overall, how do you think COCOA has changed or enhanced the Grenadian landscape?

Bryan: Projects such as Grenada House of Parliament (GHoP) and Ariza Credit Union Carriacou have undoubtedly left their mark on the landscape of the islands. GHoP in particular displays iconography such as fortification, and the boatbuilding history of Carriacou. By contextualizing the architecture in this manner, the project has reaffirmed a sense of place and cultural identity. The cantilevered entry structure of Ariza with its suspended support system denotes the inter-relationship formed between the institution and the community which it serves. 

Kiki: I loved shooting at the VB2 locations. It’s the ultimate shelter in place in my view! 

Bryan: It is my personal project, so I served as the client. It consists of two individual spaces connected via a tropical garden. This fact permitted the chance to explode atypical spaces such as the ‘convergence’ of the living room, recreational area and veranda. By carefully analyzing the direction of the rain, sun, and wind, I was able the create spaces with a high degree of openness to maximize the sea and mountain views. Ceiling high operable vertical louvres capitalize on the airflow, yet, can be shut in times of inclement weather. I use water as a key design element. Two large Koi ponds were incorporated to provide passive cooling and aesthetic appeal. A separate lap and plunge pool provide a setting of relaxed luxury, along with rooftop decks ideal for enjoying the afternoon sunsets. From a technical perspective, the project was constructed as two cast-in-situ concrete volumes expressed with board cast surfaces which in turn were finished with an oxide colouration. To work effectively with the natural landscape of the site, one of the buildings was built at a higher elevation than the other. At the same time, the shape of the spaces was determined by the limits of the site. And my desire to have a full view of the ocean and mountains beyond. VB2 was built over a period of 4 years and has become my reprieve where I occupy spaces which are truly ‘one’ with the natural setting of the location. 

Kiki: I 100% felt at one with nature in both villas. What are the exciting projects on the horizon?

Bryan: At this present time, the active projects we have in office entail a boutique resort, a retreat plus wellness centre, various single-family homes and multiple residential developments. What I enjoy most about designing projects of different scales is that each project needs to be treated on their terms as each offer unique challenges; whether it’s the constraints of the site, the budget, limitations to the supply of building materials or construction processes. Outside of the projects mentioned above, we are currently documenting our work through the development of a monograph which will incorporate selected built and unbuilt works spanning COCOA’s 20 years of practice. Additionally, we have just completed a short film documenting the making of our parliament project which is scheduled to be shown at the 2020 Venice Architectural Biennale later this year.   

Kiki: Amazing! So what advice would you give to a young Grenadian who wants to follow in your footsteps? 

Bryan: The practice of an architect is an incremental process requiring many years of training and work experience. It is a demanding profession that needs total commitment for the long hall. However, seeing your projects come to fruition from the initial concept stage to actualizing the final built work is truly rewarding. Architects have the opportunity to create environments and spaces which can have a profound effect on the well-being of its occupants and thus should deploy socially responsible practices, including the protection of the environment. 

Getting to Know you… and everything about you.

Kiki: What song/lyrics currently defines your life right now? 

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers 

Kiki: What can’t you live without? 

Sunshine, the Caribbean ocean and the warmth of the tropics.

Kiki: What’s in our online shopping basket right now? 

As an avid fitness enthusiast, I need to set up some assemblage of a home gym due to our present shutdown of public facilities. 

Kiki: What’s the next thing on your bucket list? Venture in the production of a series of short films/videos highlighting some of my built works.

Let’s get connected…

Facebook – @cocoagrenada

Photography by Terel Moore Photography | Architectural Photography by Khari O

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