Natural Selection – One of the most important roles of an architect is to listen to the client’s requirements and interpret that brief in a beautiful and functional design to fit the individual’s budget.    Clients have become more sophisticated in their technical needs, and the changing weather patterns have made building codes more demanding.  The resulting infrastructure and technology have caused architects to become more creative with the design to incorporate all these new necessities and still stay above the client’s bottom line.

From a design and layout point of view, most of the requirements for sweeping views, covered decks and orientation to the trade winds have not changed. However, clients who intend to reside long term or just use the house for holidays now require Internet, cable or satellite TV, ice machines, 42” stainless refrigerators and swimming pools. The resorts we designed in the past, such as Little Dix Bay, never had television or air conditioning, but the new and renovated rooms and the new villas come with all modern cons as standard.

These new, more expensive, high tech homes require more security and protection from Mother Nature and intrusions. Clients are well aware of the hurricanes: reports of their devastating effects can be seen 24/7 on CNN and the weather channel provides hourly tracking. In the BVI we are also at the mercy of the occasional flood or earthquake.  As a result, the Building Code has been revised to provide a lot more structure and wind protection in the form of stronger concrete, more steel reinforcement and impact-resistant glass windows. Sadly, the BVI is also not immune to the rise in crime and new home design must consider security in the layout, especially as we have a tendency to leave windows and doors open for natural ventilation.

But the list of ‘home comforts’ goes beyond impact glass and storm shutters.  Our designs will invariably require space for generators for extended power supply outages and increased cistern capacity for water supply.  Requests for sustainable and renewable power sources such as solar panels or grey water storage for landscaping also top the design list.  Adding all this protection is leading to more complex drawings being required and more expensive materials being specified.  Understandably, clients need to feel that their investment is protected.

All these changes in infrastructure requirements, coupled with increased cost of construction materials and labour, have led to a sharp rise in prices for new villas over the past few years.  And, now that the average price of a four bedroom villa tops $1 million, the contractors have also adopted more sophisticated pricing and scheduling. This all leads to more complex contracts, drawings, specifications and a great deal of supervision from all the specialists. Clients who recognize this are interviewing architects and consultants carefully to ensure they have experience and staff to see their projects through to the end.  Some also hire project managers to ensure their interests are secured.

At the end of it all, though, the floor plans still provide the same platform they always have – a platform from which to admire scenic views or sailboats navigating Drakes Channel, a place to put your deck chair and a swimming pool with a patio facing the right way for cocktail hour. Outdoor living is still the trend, but the unseen infrastructure that makes it safe and keeps us connected to the outside world has become as complex as any you find in Europe or North America.

Bringing it all together is a juggling act between the wants and needs of the client and the budget allowed. In a smaller, three bedroom residence in the emerging development in Little Bay, providing an organic, natural materials home with technological convienences and safety features was a challenge. A steep slope strewn with giant volcanic boulders and a client with accessibility issues pushed the limits of what was possible.

While the client was interested in having the outdoors/indoors line blurred, they were also cognizant of the fact that at times they would want to close the building off and run air conditioning; whilst they slept, for example. To keep a feeling of connection to the outdoors, corner-less windows made from impact-resistant glass provided the views, and high level windows offered ventilation and security. Large stone columns were used to support the structure and create a transition from inside to outside.

Large structural hardwood timbers from Guyana were imported to form the termite- and hurricane-resistant roof structure. For durability, Dade County approved hurricane copper shingles over a waterproofing were applied – these should last 50 years or more without servicing. From the inside, a stunning vaulted natural wood ceiling soars above the living spaces with lights, fans and air conditioning wiring hidden in the structure.  A good contractor will hire a specialist as these roofs are built to the same standard as a fine piece of furniture in terms of fit and finish. Unseen are the structural connections between the roof, walls and foundations which keep the occupants safe in the strongest of storms.

At the end of the day, the structure must meet the client’s needs in terms of space and security. In the BVI the view is paramount and must be considered when all these improvements are measured.  The best designed projects will have these improvements to structure and safety without sacrificing the basic principles that clients expect from a home in the tropics, and will be sensitive to nature and site.  As beautiful as your design may be, it is hard to improve on the natural splendor which surrounds us here and we should strive to make it part of our living space.