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BVI Style

Working as architects in the British Virgin Islands, we’re often asked if there is a BVI style and if OBMI has a signature style. In order to consider these questions, the history of the practice and the process of design should be considered.

OBMI’s original office was set up in Bermuda in the 1930s. Bermuda’s strong architectural identity is rooted in the practical responses of builders to the island’s climate and the locally available materials, which resulted in a unique and very special “Bermuda style.” This heritage demanded respect, and our founder, Wil Onions, became known for his inventive reinterpretation of the traditions of the local vernacular cottage architecture for the contemporary era.


In the sixties, the practice ventured into the Caribbean region. The British Virgin Islands office was established in 1967 at a time when tourism and international business were brand new to the islands. Traditional buildings in the BVI and most other Caribbean islands were generally made of wood and local stone, but the need for larger scale buildings, and the increased use of concrete, led to a departure from local traditions towards new approaches to building for a new era.

Despite this rapid pace of development, there has been a lot of continuity between the past and the present, particularly in the design of residential buildings. Elements such as hipped roofs with metal sheeting, tall cathedral ceilings, deep verandahs and decks, natural stone walls and louvered openings, all of which feature heavily in many new home projects, make up the ingredients which go together to constitute a common approach to building which can be seen throughout the Caribbean islands.

All these elements have evolved as a direct response to the environment; to quickly shed rain, resist hurricane force winds, utilize local materials, provide cooling through the thermal stack effect, provide outdoor shaded space, reduce heat gain and promote cross ventilation.

To design a truly functional and beautiful home, the architect needs to have a deep understanding of the challenges of the site: its terrain, location, orientation and climate. These challenges can be transcended, and opportunities can be created, for every home design to become an individual, site-specific building in harmony with its surroundings.

The environment of the BVI presents us with a myriad of interesting factors which need to be addressed: steep slopes, remote locations, irregular topography, boulders, hurricanes, earthquakes, corrosive salt air, sudden heavy rainfall, intense sun, unfriendly insects… and it’s our design response to these factors, more than simple aesthetic considerations, which can combine to give us a BVI style. Given the fact that almost every site in the islands has a spectacular view and beautiful surroundings, most projects offer a great opportunity for architects to really enjoy what we do.


In addition to these environmental issues, every client has their own specific parameters, such as the number and size of rooms and the budget available for finishes and fittings. And many owners have a particular preference for a “look” for their new home—from Japanese or Mexican to Balinese or Mediterranean, contemporary or traditional. Put all these factors into the mix, and it’s inevitable that every home we design will be unique.

So, when we’re asked the question about style, please forgive us if we don’t give you a simple response! 

Steve Fox is Managing Director of OBM International’s BVI office. He is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional and a co-founder of Green VI. 


Steve Fox, British Virgin Islands office
T  284 494 2148 / F  284 494 3898
[email protected]    www.obmi.com

For seven decades, OBM International has been the premier full-service design-consulting firm in Bermuda and the Caribbean. Today, with nine multinational offices, projects throughout the world and a diverse team of experts, OBM is a global leader in luxury hotel/resort design development, architecture, master/town planning and interior design, with landmark projects in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.
OBM has design offices located in Antigua, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Madrid, Miami, Muscat and Trinidad and Tobago.


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