4 Jamaican Architects Of Note

Here are a few Jamaican architects you should know:

Wilson Chong

The National Stadium, Chong’s masterpiece

According to Jacquiann Lawton, senior lecturer at the Caribbean School of Architecture, UTech, Chong’s work epitomizes the spirit of the early and immediate post-Independence Jamaica of the 1960s. A Chinese-Jamaican born in Santiago, Cuba, he studied at the University of Notre Dame and at the University of Illinois. His most famous work is the National Stadium, the gothic concrete vaults and cantilever beams in the grandstand still a sight to behold. Among his other creations are Gordon House, the Ministry of Education headquarters (one of the first sustainable buildings in the Caribbean), the Oxford Medical complex in New Kingston and the Henriques Building in Cross Roads.

As a member of the Society of Architects, Chong also championed the establishment of conditional guidelines for the industry in Jamaica, in terms of engagement, fee scales and codes of conduct, as well as laws governing the registration of architects. He was made Commander of the Order of Distinction in 1979.

Vayden McMorris

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McMorris (left) and one of his creations, the Turtle Beach Apartments (right)

According to a 2013 tribute by president of the Jamaican Institute of Architects (JIA) Ann Hodges, McMorris studied architecture at the University of Manitoba, Canada, where he graduated in 1953 with a Bachelors degree. He was awarded the Pilkington Travel Scholarship and the Royal Institute of Canada Student Medal that same year.

McMorris returned to Jamaica in 1956 and partnered with fellow architects Jerry Sibley and Bert Robinson to form McMorris Sibley Robinson (MSR), the country’s first all-Jamaican architectural firm. Together, they created many landmark buildings across Kingston and St Andrew. These include the PanJam building and The Atrium (NCB’s headquarters) in New Kingston, the Victoria Mutual Building Society headquarters in Half Way Tree and the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies, Mona, which won the Governor Generals Award for Architecture in 1969. They also designed the Turtle Beach Apartments in Ocho Rios, St Ann.

McMorris was a founder member of the Jamaica Society of Architects, now the JIA, and is regarded as the father of the architectural fraternity in Jamaica. He died in 2013.

Verma Panton

Born in Malvern, St Elizabeth, Panton was the first female architect in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean. After completing her secondary education, she worked as an assistant land surveyor from 1956 to 1958, when she won a government scholarship to further her education and headed to McGill University’s School of Architecture in Montreal, Canada. Upon returning to Jamaica in 1964, she worked with the Ministry of Education before joining McMorris Sibley Robinson in 1968. She eventually opened her own practice in 1984.

Panton was one of the founding members of the Jamaican Architects Registration Board, which was formed in 1987. Her works include the Gordon Town Community Centre, the former Workers Bank Building in Constant Spring, the Botany Building at the UWI Mona, the D Mair Insurance Building on Knutsford Boulevard, New Kingston, and the restoration of the Old Half Way Tree Courthouse.

Herbert Denham Repole

Known as ‘Denny,’ Repole is another architect who helped to shape the aesthetic of post-Independence Jamaica in the 1960s. He is responsible for designing the administrative headquarters of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and the formerly Life of Jamaica head office building, both in New Kingston. The former is considered a model of ‘work-related open space,’ while the latter has been noted for its atrium, spanned by a bridge and housing thousands of plants.

His company HD Repole and Associates was quite versatile, designing everything from commercial buildings, like those cited above, to large north coast hotels, religious buildings, to private homes, housing schemes and public monuments. They created the monument to National Heroes Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, located at National Heroes Park.

Repole, who died in November 2011, was the recipient of numerous national and regional honours and awards, including the Order of Distinction, Commander Class in 2003.

BONUS: Gordon Gill

The Pearl River Tower (cc) Brad Wilkins

If you’re a design nerd and have looked at 3D renderings of under-construction architectural wonders like the Dancing Dragons in Seoul, South Korea or the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, then you should know that a Jamaican is one of the masterminds behind them. Gill, born in Kingston and raised in St Ann before moving to Toronto, Canada at age 11, is one half of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the Chicago-based firm that is highly regarded for designing high-performance, energy-efficient and sustainable edifices around the world. (Sidenote: Gill’s partner, Adrian Smith, designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.)

Gordon’s work includes the design of the world’s first net zero-energy skyscraper, the Pearl River Tower (China), the world’s first large-scale positive energy building, Masdar Headquarters (Abu Dhabi) and most recently the design of Astana Expo 2017 and its sustainable legacy community for Astana, Kazakhstan.

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  • Excerpts from Concrete Expressions: A Sketch of the Birth and Development of A Modernist Architecture in Jamaica, 1945-1975