The picture shows work in progress on a tenon and stopped chamfer: a carpentry device that I doubt is mentioned in today’s building codes. Many of my tools bare my father’s and grandfather’s initials. They have been in daily use for over a hundred years.

Up until recent times building codes were not specified by government agencies but lodged in the minds of craftsmen. Experience handed down from father to son, enabled them to build resilient structures from the materials at hand. Skill was an essential component in establishing the longevity of our built heritage.

At this point in time Dominica could benefit from re-establishing these lost arts. Homes built from concrete and plastic are a poor substitute to homes built from our own resources. Stone, lime mortar, hardwood and bamboo are the most resilient materials known to man and these we have in abundance. Buildings constructed from these materials survived Hurricanes David and Maria and storms in earlier times.

The challenge in the short term is to provide temporary housing for those made homeless by Erica and Maria in materials that will not leave a permeant blot on the landscape. Rather than concrete and plastic from overseas we should be innovatively searching for ways to utilize the windfall of fallen trees that Maria has left behind. The end result need not be “third world”. An up-market housing development in the UK is utilizing imported wood from palm trees. In the States and elsewhere in the world fallen trees are also being utilised as a viable building material.

Our objective should be to avoid despoiling the island for future generations. Timber can revert back to the soil: concrete and plastic cannot. Housing development should conform to the contours of the land, rather than making the land conform to housing. Furthermore, if our homes and surroundings lack beauty our lives will be lacklustre. We can do without a Dominican version of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes”.

Dominica has all the resources to become the world’s foremost self-sufficient small island state. It will mean a major shift in our lifestyle: an acceptance of what Dominica is capable of sustaining. The change cannot be achieved by academic achievement but by putting into practice skills that demand hand and eye coordination. And the change cannot happen overnight. Skills are difficult enough to acquire, and they become all the more difficult to learn when there is no one left to teach.

I began my training at my grandfather’s workbench and went on to serve two apprenticeships. The master craftsmen that I worked under not only taught me my trade but they also instilled in me a love for the broad spectrum of the arts. Hence, a skilled workforce embodies many of the social benefits that we presently sadly lack.

At the same time we must embrace technology. The loss that I presently feel the most is computer and broadband. Yes, I’m limping along with a “tablet” and cell phone reception but it’s not the same. The internet is our most valuable learning resource. Before Maria, with on-line advice from experts worldwide, I was near to a breakthrough in processing banana stem fibre, both for paper making and for a thread more valuable than silk. Now the initiative is on hold until communication improves.

My vision for Dominica’s future depends on a combination of traditional skills and new technology. The two are not poles apart but compatible and for building codes with a difference we need to embrace both. The spacing of rafters alone will not solve the problem but understanding how earlier generations of craftsmen built with the resources at hand will go a long way to finding a solution.

And let me remind the skeptics, it was Albert Einstein who said: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”.

Footnote:
For DNO followers of my on-line diary, the latest posting shows my studio and gallery restored after the onslaught of Hurricane Maria. It can be found at: sculpturestudiodominica.blogspot.com