Photo shows the remains of one of the author’s sculptures after Maria took a swipe at it. Fortunately, most of his collection survived.

Like all Dominicans, I have spent the last seven weeks picking up the pieces. Having said that, my family fared better than most. We still have a roof over our heads, albeit a stifling slab of concrete that is uncomfortable to live under in anything other than a hurricane. So where, in terms of house design and infrastructure, do we go from here?

I am all for bold initiatives, but the concept of being the world’s first climate resilient nation and an “expo” that will invite architects from all over the world to submit plans for hurricane proof houses, has an all too familiar ring about it. You will remember that on April Fool’s Day, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Erica, Baroness Scotland announced a “Building Back Better Expo” that would do “extraordinary things” and attract consultants from all over the world.

As I understand it, from one of the Prime Minister’s announcements, the world-wide submission of plans will be whittled down to twenty and after further elimination five designs will be approved for contractors to work with. The end result: 5000 climate resilient houses!

The immediate need to re-house those left homeless by both Erica and Maria is one thing and prescribing house designs for the future is another. Housing is directly related to lifestyle. You can’t put a rural community in town houses. The identity of places reflects the identity of ourselves. Before committing future generations to regimented housing estates we need to consider the kind of lifestyle Dominica is capable of sustaining and the kind of lifestyle Dominicans aspire to. As a recent Sun newspaper editorial states: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. If nothing else, Maria has given us a reality check. Only a few months ago we were debating the need for street lights along rural roads!

House design for the tropics needs to be radically re-thought. In this respect the current initiative, if it gets off the ground, offers hope, for building codes alone are not the answer. We need to think beyond slab-sided house construction.

In a hurricane the objective is to deflect rather than stop the wind and within the building, airflow rather than airtight. Roof coverings in sheet form are problematic, no matter how well they are nailed down. My one galvanized roof is now somewhere the other side of the river, whereas a shingle roof (without plywood underlay and hence able to “breath”) survived Maria even though the trees around it were uprooted.

I doubt that an architect from Timbuctoo is familiar with our challenging terrain, knowledgeable of our home grown building materials, or sensitive to our Caribbean lifestyle and vernacular. As a passionate advocate of Caribbean house and townscape design I am not aware of more than a handful of architects that have given the subject serious thought beyond “x” feet and “y” inches. We desperately need to restore beauty in our built environment and to train craftsmen with the skills needed to create that beauty. Anything less will commit future generations to bland and ugly conformity.

Beyond climate resilience we need to be prepared for other natural hazards: namely earth quakes and volcanic eruption. The first can be alleviated by structural design and the second by zoning. In terms of zoning, the hazard map for Dominica puts the entire Roseau Valley off limits.

There always has been and always will be climate change. As one D.N.O commentator succinctly put it, ask the Dinosaurs! Dominica’s previous succession of devastating hurricanes – five all told – occurred between 1779 and 1834. However, by working in harmony with nature we can lessen the impact. Perhaps the catch phrase should be climate friendly rather than climate resistant. Centuries ago the Kalinagos were closer to that ideal than what we are today. Mother Nature doesn’t like being messed about with. The best way to stabilize slopes is to not destabilize them in the first place. And as regular readers might guess, this brings me right back to the on-going blunder at Antrim!