Being an Architect
- January 31st, 2011
- in Yachting
Being an Architect in the BVI is Never Boring
by Steve Fox, Managing Director, OBM International
Working as an architect in the British Virgin Islands, people I meet are often curious to know more about what it’s like—what do we design, who do we design for, is it enjoyable.
Well, from the outset, when I came to work here nearly seven years ago, it was clear that things would be very different to the ways of working that I’d been used to back in London. For a start, London is densely developed and saturated with architects and designers, all competing to stand out from the crowd, hoping to win that rare dream commission to design a new building, hoping to make their mark. In contrast, the BVI is geographically tiny and sparsely developed, with more space, scope and opportunity to do what we as architects want to do; design beautiful, unique buildings.
In architectural school, we often find ourselves developing idealized, imaginary projects for beautiful, challenging sites, only to find that, in the real world, things can be somewhat more mundane. So it’s very exciting to be working in a place where virtually every site is beautiful and challenging. With our steep hillsides, stunning vistas, lush vegetation and unusual natural features, it’s a pleasure to design to integrate with the naturally spectacular topography of the islands. And in aiming for this integration, it follows that no two designs are the same, with every project having its own special characteristics. This variety helps to ensure that we’re constantly inspired and enthused.
Things get even more interesting when combined with our broad range of clients. We desig for a wildly varying range of people with differing backgrounds, cultures and income brackets. On the residential side of our business, projects can range in size from a 200-acre private island to a modest guest cabin. Clients hail from all over the world and come with their own specific needs and desires. Projects currently on my desk include a 12-bedroom holiday villa in Anguilla for three generations of family from Elkhorn, Nebraska, a small, traditional wooden cottage for a pair of Swedish surfers and their dogs, and a simple but dramatic, modern eco-house for a local family of three.
Working in the islands necessitates a very close involvement and understanding of the environment. As with all aspects of life here, everything we do has an immediate and apparent impact, but this is particularly evident with construction. Unlike in the big city, where a new building simply “plugs in” to the existing infrastructure, here in the BVI we need to carefully consider and be closely involved with all elements of the design and construction, which results in an intimate understanding and connection to the heart of the project. Although we may be far removed from the centres of technology, we’re in a position to be leaders in the field of “sustainable” design, as we integrate strategies for drainage, water and energy use, durability and minimization of the impact on the natural landscape.
Of course, the tropical climate is another factor which draws people to these islands. This climate also allows us to design more freely than in colder regions. Buildings can be open, light and airy, and construction detailing can be simple. One of the main ambitions of modern architecture is to achieve a sense of the free flow of space, within the building and from the inside to the outside spaces. In our climate, we can virtually eliminate the boundaries between inside and outside to achieve an expanded feeling of space, at one with the landscape, embracing the picture-perfect views of the ocean and the horizon.
All of these factors come together to result in an intense involvement with every project. The variety of clients and sites ensures that things never get boring. Most projects are fun, some are truly glamorous, and, once built, almost all are deeply satisfying. It’s a pleasure to be able to help clients realize their dreams, to provide them with intelligent and beautiful solutions to their needs, and to contribute positively to the environment of our islands.