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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wakeham

A Visit to St. Lucia

Architect in France
Cattle egrets on their nests in a tree outside my hotel window. This is the same species that is now over-wintering in the fields around my home in France.

A Visit To St. Lucia

I have just spent 5 days in St Lucia working on a disaster vulnerability reduction project that is funding the construction of two health centres.

Saint Lucia is an island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the Lesser Antilles and is located north/north-east of the island of Saint Vincent, north-west of Barbados and south of Martinique. It covers a land area of 617 km2 and had a population of 165,595 in 2010.

The capital is Castries where 32% of the population lives. Other major towns include Gros Islet, Soufrière, and Vieux Fort. The population is concentrated around the coast with the interior more sparsely populated.

It is a volcanic island and more mountainous than most Caribbean islands, with the highest point being Mount Gimie, at 950 metres. Two other mountains, the Pitons, located between Soufrière and Choiseul on the western side of the island form the island's most famous landmark. Forests cover about 77% of the land area.

The local climate is a tropical rainforest climate moderated by north-east trade winds, with a dry season from December to May and a wet season from June to November. Average day-time temperatures are around 30 °C and average night-time temperatures are around 24 °C and since it is fairly close to the equator, the temperature does not fluctuate much between winter and summer. Average annual rainfall ranges from 1,300 mm on the coast to 3,810 mm in the mountain rainforests.

The island is very susceptible to the hurricanes that are very common in this part of the Caribbean and has suffered a great deal of damage over the years.

St Lucia is a beautiful island and seems to be a favourite with the Caribbean cruise ships. I stayed at a small hotel close to the port in Castries and was entertained by watching the cruise ships coming in every morning, two or three a day and then leaving in the evening. They only stay for about 12 hours when they disembark hundreds of tourists and quite what these get out of their visits I really do not know.

The ships are huge and dwarf the capital city’s buildings around the port. The port is at present a multi-function port in that it deals with all of the country’s imports and exports (mainly bananas) as well as the cruise ships. The government apparently has the intention of making it a port only for cruise ships and developing the area around to provide attractions for tourists such as markets, cultural centres and the suchlike. The commercial port will be moved to another location down the coast.

Tourism is hugely important to the economy and as well as the cruise ships there are many tourist hotels scattered around the island (apparently the island had 1.5 million visitors in a six month period last year!). How much money from the tourists actually stays in the country though is another matter given that most people staying at the hotels are on package deals that they have paid for in their own countries and the cruise ship passengers only stay in the country for a very short time. The question must also be asked as to what effect the arrival of so many relatively rich visitors must have on the local population and culture?

I travelled around the island to visit our construction sites and it really is very beautiful. I was disappointed though as I did not see any of the traditional timber boarded houses that seem (from photographs) to be very similar to houses in Freetown, Sierra Leone where the designs were brought back from the Caribbean by freed slaves and suspect that most of them have been demolished. Will look again on my next visit.

The architecture of the new buildings in Castries and the other towns that I visited was very disappointing. The buildings are generally badly designed, very little if any thought has been given to climate control and all new buildings seem to be air-conditioned with no protection from the sun.

For an island state that is already suffering from the effects of climate change this does seem to be rather extraordinary and I would have thought that the government would be making strenuous efforts to reduce the island’s carbon footprint but it appears not.

The photo gallery shows some of the cruise ships and their relationship to the city and its buildings and some of the particularly crass new buildings. There are also photos of some of the older buildings in and around Castries.


Architecture in Developing Countries: A Resource

The design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health in rural areas of the developing world.

Nigel Wakeham is an architect who lived for 23 years in Southern and West Africa and the SW Pacific working on education, health and other projects. He has since worked for over 20 years as a consultant for national governments and agencies such as the World Bank, DFID, ADB and AfDB on the implementation of the construction components of education and health projects in many countries in the developing world.​

​The objective of this website will be to provide the benefit of more than 45 years of experience of working in developing countries to architects and other construction professionals involved in the design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health. It will provide reference material from the projects that Nigel has worked on and technical information on the design, construction and maintenance of educational and health facilities and other relevant topics and these will be added to from time to time.

I am happy to be contacted by anyone requiring further information on any of the projects or resources referred to in this website or by anyone wishing to discuss work possibilities.


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