This was the perfect project at the perfect time. To say the least, I needed it.
Before I babble I'd like to offer some Stats and Facts.
* based on industry figures in 2014
Pre- renovation value of house: 1/10th value of property
Cost of new construction for middle income housing: approx $1000/1200 per sqft
Cost of renovation of 65 Gallus: approx $750 per sqft (inclusive of new roof)
Construction savings of renovating 65 Gallus as opposed to demolition and new construction : 25-40%
65 Gallus Street was perviously owned by a true Woodbrook family. The family had lived in the house for generations, they added on to the original square plan as they grew. It became a very linear home beginning with a porch at the front and was terminated by a mango tree to the back. There were no hallways, you moved from room to room, through room to room. The house celebrated entry, and community with its elegant facade and willingness to communicate with its neighbours. She was part of a true 'front porch culture'. She also spoke of a different time, where privacy didn't exist. There were no locks on bedroom doors, no air-conditions in rooms, no choice but to sit together for lunch and dinner.
She was originally built in the late 1800's and is a testimony to the utility, durability and beauty of the colonial vernacular of Trinidad and Tobago. Quite romantic.
In April 2014 we were faced with the opportunity of owning 65 Gallus Street. Though the value of the house itself was literally 1/10th the value of the property, we knew that her grace was priceless.
I often wonder how Trinidadians have cultivated this adversity to anything of ours that is old.. we will gladly fly to Greece to observe the Acropolis, but most of us haven't even visited the Temple by the Sea. Why is it that our history means so little to us? Why are we so unaffected by our historic architecture that we willingly allow these gems deteriorate into eyesores + urban nuisances? Does this mentality begin to define our culture?
I wrote my thesis (.. which I should share) on defining "Trinidadian Housing" and it was SO SO SO difficult to find appropriate academic literature (honestly, thank God for John Newel Lewis' Ajoupa). We are always looking outside of our country to the greatness of others for inspiration/ meaning. I have often heard Trini's say that they want a Tuscan-esque home, or a Palladian "looking" villa with Corinthian Columns and red clay tiled roofs and a gondola out back ( I may be exaggerating a touch) ... but why??
Such designs have perfect situations in Tuscany and Rome but what makes them suitable for Trinidad? Furthermore - why do we think they are "better" or more beautiful? I refuse to believe that it is simply a matter of taste.
65 Gallus Street was in pretty bad shape when we got our hands on her, however her classical composition was immaculate. There is not much that can touch the high ceilings , cross ventilation, attic ventilation, celebration of entry and filtration of light that our historic buildings possess. So, we spent the following 7 months of 2014 reviving her. And alive she is.
Since completion we have had SUCH fantastic feedback on 65 Gallus Street. The previous owners (who were concerned that we would tear her down) were moved to tears when we had them over post completion. She has been written and spoken about and last week I was even asked to sign a photograph of her for someone's birthday (I was beyond honoured!!) !
I'd say this project was a win on pretty much all counts. Most importantly for me, as an architect whose goal is to help Trinidad find its footing in the world of architecture, I was moved by the excitement and buzz created by the revival of this "old" and truly local building.