It’s more than 10 years since the devastation wrought by hurricane’s Ivan and Emily, yet the island is still littered with derelict or abandoned houses. The construction of new buildings continues apace in Grenada yet there’s still a sense that we’re missing spaces that can satisfy our society’s diverse range of needs.
Austerity is a poor excuse for a lack of creativity. Globally there is a growing undercurrent towards the democratization of design. In architecture it can be seen in the boom in reclaimed spaces from the “El Campo de Cebada” project in Madrid, Spain, to Portugal’s short-lived public squats, to open source designs for housing in post-earthquake Christchurch and the growth in meanwhile spaces that turn abandoned buildings into low-cost spaces for entrepreneurs and creatives across the UK.
In this vein, 29-year-old freelance architect, Irina Kostka, grabbed our attention as she has given thought to how to start bridging the gap between the present reality and the potential for change in a Grenadian context.
Why did you decide to base your thesis on revitalising the Carenage?
“I didn’t start with that idea. While I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my thesis, a friend presented a concept for a house of culture in Lisbon, Portugal. I thought it was such a cool project and I thought that St Georges too is in need of a house of culture. We don’t have anywhere where people can go and learn to dance, for example. There’s no hub where you can just go to engage in cultural activities, a place where people can practise, perform or host events.”
“So I started working on the idea but a house of culture hosts so many things that it really needs a large area to host it, but St Georges only has very small plots. I thought the house of culture should go on the Carenage and play a part in revamping the area.
So that’s where the idea came from, in looking for a location for a house of culture. As all the lots along the Carenage are so small, I thought why don’t we split up the house of culture and turn the promenade into a promenade of culture so you have a dance house, a music house, a poetry house and a theatre. So in that way the spaces along the Carenage become connected.”
“The Carenage has so much potential! But any area, no matter how well it’s designed or how beautiful it is, it will die if there are no people. You need people to liven it up. Grenadians are not going to lime in the hot sun. So plant trees.
There’s one big tree by where the Rum Runner is and there are always people sitting there, whether they’re selling something or if they’re just taking a rest. What if the whole Carenage was full of trees packed with people sitting under them? That’s how I came up with the small points that added up to the whole promenade.”
What reception did your proposals receive?
“Well, I presented it in Germany and the reaction was really good. Everyone said they wanted to come to Grenada, I got a very good grade and the professors said they loved it. But they’re German.
When I was researching, I contacted Angus from the museum for literature to do research. He suggested that I come and present my findings when I was finished. When I set the date, I was so nervous as the fact that it had gone down well in Germany didn’t guarantee that it would be well-received in Grenada.
Yet when I presented it to an audience at the museum the reception was really good, which I was very happy about, as it made me realise that this was something that Grenadians could see happening.”
Is it something that you think could actually come to life?
“I definitely think it could happen. Funding is the biggest aspect. Because of the lack of funding we don’t have a board or a body that is specifically focused on urban planning in St Georges. If the funding were there it could happen in a heartbeat.”
When did you realise that, despite studying abroad, you wanted to return to Grenada?
“I didn’t leave with the intention of coming back. It was in my second year at university in Hanover, Germany. The first year was all about excitement, everything was really new like snow. But in the second year I just really wanted to go home. I thought I’m good, I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, I need to go back.
I guess because of the opportunity in Germany – the education was really cheap, almost free – I had to just bite down and say, ‘ok five more years, four more years, three more years’ and just work at it like that.”
What was it that was calling you back?
“I didn’t feel like myself when I was there. I think I was so young and I grew up with two cultures in Grenada so I was always adapting; when I was in Germany I was more German, when I was around Grenadians I was more Grenadian.
Being in Germany full-time meant that the Grenadian in me had no outlet. I just didn’t feel like I was me. It took a while for me to be like, ‘no matter what just let it out’. Let out the Grenadian, let out the rude jokes, if music is playing feel free to start dancing and singing. All of that I had held back on so it was the culture that was calling me back.
I missed the fact that I came from a place where people were always singing. In Europe, if you’re singing in the train people look at you as if you’re crazy. I was missing all those little things, like people commenting when you’re walking down the road, things that might annoy you while you’re here, but which you really lack when you’re away.”
Looking around the island, there are so many buildings that are derelict. Is there any discussion of how these buildings can be used creatively rather than leaving them empty to rot?
“Not that I’m aware of. Those ideas I find really amazing. The problem in Grenada is the bureaucracy. First you need to find out who you need to go to in order to do anything. Is it this organisation, is it that board? The initial steps can be very confusing for people. Because creativity is born spontaneously, you can lose creative momentum in just trying to find stuff out. It takes months before you can even get through to anything!
On top of this, I find Grenadians can be timid in terms of towards something like that. There’s always someone who is going to be against it. When people have that in the back of their minds then it hinders any sort of progress because people listen to others who have negative things to say about their ideas. This is a big issue here.
People are scared of making the wrong decision and don’t want to step on people’s toes. Take York House. One group of people want to break it down, another wants to rebuild it. So it just stays there and nothing happens.”
How would you describe the role of the architect in society?
“I see architects as those who define space. The architect brings things into perspective. An open space can just be an open space but an architect can help give form. Especially in terms of urban planning, I think architects have a particularly important role to play. But in a country like this they are completely overlooked when it comes to this area.
Architects help in people’s wellbeing – whether it’s where you live or where you work an architect helps create views, create spaces so that you feel comfortable and de-clutter. An architect helps bring art to our surroundings.
It’s quite a sculptural process so I see architecture as a kind of art. I focus on the art part so while there’s the engineering side but I find that when you have fun with it, when you bring art to your surroundings then when you can live in an art space and see it as such then that’s the role of an architect.”