SHAPE (the Society for Historic Architectural Preservation and Enhancement) is alarmed to read in a report from Caribbean News Global on 13 March 2022 that a design for a new Roseau Public Library has been approved and that construction is due to begin within the next few months. SHAPE has not been consulted about this design despite having been invited to join a legally mandated committee (Public Library Act 1954) whose function was to determine the future of the library. No committee meeting has been held.
The designs for the library show a three-storey building with a clock tower “similar to the Big Ben”, to be built on the site of the existing library, badly damaged by Hurricane Maria and in subsequent ﬁres. The library and national archives will be on the ground ﬂoor with space above for a dance space and sound recording studio.
While we support the need for a new library and additional space, we cannot endorse the new design, which is understood to be the work of MMC Development Ltd, the development arm of Montreal Management Consultants Est., responsible for recent housing projects, health centres and the plans for the new airport.
The proposed design has no cultural integrity, it reﬂects nothing of Dominica, and is architecturally bereft of any understanding of the needs of a tropical environment. This is another blow to our fast disappearing architectural heritage.
SHAPE has argued that a restored library and the surrounding French Quarter could serve as a signiﬁcant cultural and economic boon, much as Old San Juan in Puerto Rico is the most visited area on the island, or the French Quarter in New Orleans.
More than six thousand signatures were generated by an appeal by SHAPE in 2020 to restore and preserve the library (appeal still active at https://www.change.org/p/roseaulibrary). This was one of the most successful petitions in our island’s history. We had hoped that this appeal would have resonated with the decision makers.
SHAPE oﬃcials had meetings with the Parliamentary Representative, oﬃcials from the Ministry of Education, and other public oﬃcials in an eﬀort to express our concerns and lend support to preserving one of the pillars of our cultural heritage.
The new plans also seem to incur the demolition of the Victoria Memorial, the small building in the library grounds next to DBS. This was carded to be the Dominica Disaster Resource Center post Hurricane Erika for which funds were secured by Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, and announced on her ﬁrst oﬃcial day on the job.
We do not just have concerns about the destruction of our heritage. We are also dismayed that the expertise of local or regional architects is not being utilised for the new library, nor indeed for any other major landmark building projects across the island. Such decisions will hardly oﬀer an incentive to young architects overseas who dream of returning home to contribute to the built environment of Dominica.