Building Better

Sourced from the St Lucia Star

The devastating 2017 hurricane season was a wake-up call for the Caribbean on many levels, but one of the most crucial issues in the aftermath was recovery – how to repair and replace crumbling infrastructure with something more resilient.

The storms pushed inadequate building practices into the headlines, but ineffective infrastructure is a longstanding problem in the region. Heavy rainfall often results in flooding and washed out roads; high winds down power lines; rough seas erode coastal sites. Building in tune with the natural environment can solve these problems in a way that is sustainable, low impact and cost-effective.

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

“Green infrastructure, low impact development, these are big key words but it’s really just common sense,” says Tom Hook, Principal at B+H Architects which develops green infrastructure strategies for developments all over the world. “The resilient landscape is about a system that is natural; you use things like parks, open spaces, streams and permeable paving. They become features and amenities on the site but they are also acting as storm management tools.”

One of the Caribbean’s biggest challenges is water, according to Hook who says efficient drainage systems are paramount in reducing the damage from hurricanes and tropical storms. He has worked with hotel operators around the globe to develop smart strategies that divert water flow into appropriate areas. “Make it an amenity,” he says. “The rain has to go somewhere so have streams running through the property, a park or an open space. Let them flood when it rains because it’s better there than in a building. You can have those areas where water drains and you can also create underground cisterns to collect the water to use it for irrigation or other things.”

Hook, who has consulted with the Ritz-Carlton in Saint Lucia on a green infrastructure masterplan, says the island’s unique geography can pose a challenge for developers. “Saint Lucia is tricky because of its topography; you have a lot more run-off. You have to look at where the water is running to, and enhance that.”

B+H Architects has a number of tools in its armoury when it comes to channeling run-off including green roofs that use vegetation on the top of buildings to absorb rainwater, bioswales to naturally collect and filter stormwater, and retention ponds to collect excess run-off. The architects perform site analysis and create masterplans to minimise the impact on local habitats and ecosystems, while ensuring man-made features are protected from erosion, flooding and other natural events.

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