Warner Street in St Augustine has been the address of breezy bungalows for university personnel for decades. Now, amidst the samaans, shade trees, flowering shrubs and grassy backyards, stands a new building, one which makes its presence felt without upsetting the idyllic surroundings. The new green and white blockwork structure, the Health Economics Unit (HEU), at 25a Warner Street, is the latest of a string of achievements for Jenifer Smith Architects Ltd (JSA). "The building is situated on a plot which was originally occupied by a single family dwelling with a large garden, typical of the housing provided for professors and lecturers at UWI when it was the Imperial College of Agriculture in the 1940s. "The original house was demolished many years ago and UWI constructed single-storey temporary offices, which are still there.
"However, there was room for a building to be constructed on the eastern side of the plot. This area was allocated by UWI for the new HEU building. "Rather than conceiving this building as a stand-alone design, we considered what the best use of the entire site would be, given that, in time, the temporary buildings would be demolished, leaving the western end to be developed. "The idea was to eventually create an open-sided quadrangle. So the new building was developed in an 'L' shape. In time, this footprint could be mirrored, creating a central courtyard on to Warner Street. "The shorter side of the 'L' houses a conference centre and the longer side, three floors of administration and training spaces," Smith said.
With the construction industry, of late, facing criticism about being able to deliver projects them within budget and on time, Smith said the HEU building is especially notable, having been successfully completed on time and within tight financial constraints. The HEU building constructed by local contractor, Alpha Engineering (2001) Ltd. Smith is especially proud of this project. Construction started in April 2008 and was completed in July 2009. "It demonstrates that this approach to the design and procurement of a public building–where the architect, structural engineer, services engineer and quantity surveyor work closely together to produce a comprehensive and co-ordinated set of drawings and specifications based on a defined brief–can result in a building design which can be constructed on time and to budget." The Centre for Health Economics was established by Prof Karl Theodore at the University of the West Indies. The project, which cost $22 million, was partly financed by the World Bank, a PanCaribbean Partnership Against HIV/Aids (PANCAP) grant, and the Government.
About the HEU design
The structure comprises three floors. The ground floor will be used for HEU administration. The first floor is for HEU training and the third floor is additional office space to be used by another UWI department. There is also a conference centre on the ground floor, which can be booked as a public venue to provide an income stream for the HEU. "We also believe firmly that a building which meets and even exceeds expectations is also a reflection of the participation and role of the client. In this case, we were able to work closely with Campus Projects Office (CPO) at UWI, which has a great deal of experience and which always maintained a positive and professional approach. "In addition, the general contractor took a partnering approach to the construction of this building. Very often contractors bid deliberately low on incomplete information to win a job and then focus most of their energies on making claims to compensate. This is why time and resources are better spent before actual construction starts; to ensure that information is comprehensive and claims are therefore limited to a minimum. "CPO understood that process and allowed for it."
Integrated into the design are several features integral to the overall aesthetic of the building, which are related to reducing solar gain/heat load. These features include external sun-shading devices and overhangs. The windows are all double-glazed to reduce energy consumption. Windows to all the offices can be opened in the event of power failure. The design also was done to retain all of the existing trees on site. New trees were also planted to provide additional shade. Grasscrete was used instead of tarmac for the parking areas, allowing for percolation of rainwater. Low-energy fixtures and fittings, such as the type of carpet, were used wherever possible.
About Jenifer Smith
Jenifer Smith Architects Ltd, principal architect Jenifer Smith, 48, graduated from the prestigious Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London, and qualified in 1987. She worked with a small London firm, Armstrong Associates, before moving on to work in Paris, where she became a member of the Ordre des Architectes in 1991.
Moving back to London in 1998, she started her own company, taking on high-end residential and leisure facilities. After a few years, the desire to become involved in more civic and public projects led her to move back home to Trinidad, where she was raised and where her family still lives. For the last nine years, she's made her mark as an architect, winning Abel-Bestcrete Caribbean Building Awards in 2006 for Best Industrial Building and Best Individual House, and working on such public and educational buildings as the original design for University of T&T's O'Meara campus; which was short-listed for the best educational facility award.