26.2 CCA BOOK REVIEWS & COMMENTS
As a successful architect Brian Lewis has an extra insight into the art of photographing buildings, and his latest major project has seen him focus on a stunning selection of contemporary Caribbean houses
As an architect of over forty years standing Brian Lewis eats, sleeps and breathes design, and he takes enormous pleasure from encountering an expertly conceived building, whether or not it’s one that he’s happened to have worked on. His eye for detail is impeccable, and he’ll note how natural light changes the perception of a structure throughout the day, and appreciate the way that a building has been designed to relate to the landscape around it.
While these attributes are a crucial part of Brian’s architectural skills they also ensure that he has a particular eye and way of looking at a structure that gives him a distinct advantage when it comes to photography. It’s the reason why he’s become as highly regarded for his skills behind the camera as he is for his design expertise.
And it’s why his latest epic project, a book on contemporary Caribbean architecture, is already being hailed as an essential guide to the best design practice in the region.
“My interest in photography came even before my studies as an architect,” says Brian. “I always loved cameras and making images: as my architectural career developed it became a natural expression that helped me present our firm’s work professionally. For buildings to look their best it’s essential that they’re photographed in the right way and with understanding and this can then lead on to further lucrative architectural commissions.”
Brian’s love of photography, and his appreciation of architecture throughout the Caribbean, led to his latest project, a massive and richly illustrated book entitled Contemporary Caribbean Architecture. A limited edition costing $100 – a price that was only achieved through it being subsidised through sponsorship – it sold out within three weeks of its publication date, being snapped up by a learned audience that consisted of architects, students, photographers, architectural enthusiasts, existing and prospective clients, building owners and developers.
“The book was intended to establish a reference point for contemporary architecture within the Caribbean,” says Brian. “Because the general public is very familiar with traditional colonial architecture in this region, as an architect I felt that there was a need for an alternative reference point that would show that contemporary architecture can also be beautiful.”
Along with the drop-dead gorgeous individually styled cliff top villas that are so associated with this region, Brian also wanted to feature a full range of building types and end uses, and so he made sure that such things as hotels, offices, a library, apartments and a shopping mall were all included in the mix as well. Ultimately the project grew into a remarkable documentary of the key contemporary architecture of an entire region at a certain point in time, something that’s of crucial and continuing interest to all of those that care about great design.
“It all began with me contacting the various Institutes of Architects in each Caribbean island,” says Brian, “and asking them to circulate a flier I produced that invited their member architects to submit images of buildings they felt would be suitable. From these I selected some 50 projects from various islands in the Caribbean although, for reasons of logistics, it was not possible to include Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Dutch islands and some other Caribbean islands. Once I’d made my choices I prepared agreements for the architects and their clients to sign and I then planned how and when to go about the photography.
“A book of this nature requires a different approach from a typical architectural photographic assignment. Firstly, other than reviewing the occasional drawing I might have received from the architect in advance, there was little opportunity to scout projects and sites beforehand. Secondly, and more importantly, the time available to take photographs on site was limited, because I was very much doing this in my own time and I had a lot of places to get to.
“There are sections covering the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands and the Greater Antilles. To move around the islands I got together with some friends and we travelled by boat. It was a bit like a military operation that had to take into account the variables of weather, tides and currents, but overall it was an exciting adventure and we had lots of fun in between the photography. The final year involved me looking for sponsorship, printing the book and preparing the exhibition that accompanied the launch.”
“Norman Parkinson borrowed my Hasselblad – and more than once”. From his earliest days as a photographer Brian chose to work with a Hasselblad, and his bond with the camera grew following early encounters with photographic legend Norman Parkinson. “He was a very unusual person with a particular sense of humour, style and quality,” he recalls.
While never formally trained, Brian acquired his photographic skills through experience, by acquiring a comprehensive library on architectural photography and by attending numerous architectural photography workshops over the years. His current camera of choice is a Hasselblad H4D-50, which is coupled with 24mm, 28mm, 100mm, 210mm and 50-110mm zoom lenses, plus the HST 1.5 tilt & shift adaptor, a crucial accessory for architectural photographers looking to avoid converging verticals.
“I would say the 28mm is the lens I use most of the time,” he says. “I also have both tungsten and flash systems, which on the Caribbean project were sometimes necessary to use to lower the contrast for interior scenes when conditions were really bright, but most of the time the dynamic range of the Hasselblad was wide enough to cope.”
Brian’s approach to an architectural shoot reflects his respect for the concept for the building, and it generally starts out with a conversation with the architect to get a feel for the design intent behind it. Then he walks around the building and through the spaces to establish his own thoughts, making note of the compositions and lighting that capture the building’s form and intent. All the while, however, there’s the time pressure to consider, and the need to work around the vagaries of the weather.
“With less than a handful of exceptions, the time allocated for each of the buildings within the Caribbean project was less than a day,” says Brian, “and I would often start after nine in the morning and finish just after sunset. It was critical for me to work quickly and smartly so, for example, I would move indoors to focus on interiors around midday when the sun was at its height or there was a higher chance of tropical showers.
“In the Caribbean it’s necessary to start photographing the east facades before sun shifts overhead and to the west. I would then finish up with exteriors and some dusk images: when you’re photographing contemporary architecture shots taken at this time of day can capture a happy blend of the exterior and interior because of the extensive use of glass.” As he moved around the exteriors of buildings and through their interiors Brian regularly came across unusual views of details, and he would make a point of interrupting his shooting plan to capture them. Often these would convey the essence of the design intent as well, if not better, than the wider overall views, and they were crucial to the overall coverage.
“My aim throughout the Caribbean project was to capture images that depicted the design intent of the architects,” says Brian, “using composition, lighting and lots of instinct. My hope is that the book will provide a unique opportunity for architectural enthusiasts to view and study a wide range of contemporary architecture that they might never have the opportunity to visit in person, and that it will ultimately provide a new reference point for architects, enthusiasts and those considering building in the Caribbean.”
Brian has now moved on to his next project, another book that will this time focus on the historic buildings of Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago before some of these important pieces of architectural heritage are lost forever. As always he’ll be travelling there with his trusty Hasselblad kit and, no doubt, he’ll emerge with another classic set of pictures that will reflect his impeccable understanding of architectural style. Hasselblad: http://www.hasselblad.com/our-world/feature/how-to-breathe-real-life-into-buildings
Contemporary Caribbean Architecture is an extensive work compiling an island-by-island survey of many beautiful works of contemporary island architecture. Having Brian’s unique perspective of both accomplished architect and talented photographer really comes through in the photography. These buildings are seen with his unique vision and perspective. Its evident even from the packaging, that this book is a work of pure passion for the subject. Jeffrey Totaro, Architectural Photographer – Philadelphia, USA
It is rare for an architect to be skilled both in his chosen profession and in architectural photography. The latter has a rigorous aesthetic and an established history all its own. In addition to designing exceptional contemporary architectural projects, Brian Lewis has also developed the photographic skills to objectively and dramatically showcase his work to a wider audience. For Lewis, architecture and photography share equal importance, artistically and intellectually. In his newest book, Contemporary Caribbean Architecture, Lewis’s sincere dedication to both disciplines is convincingly on display. Steven Brooke, Architectural Photographer and Adjunct Professor, University of Miami School of Architecture – Florida, USA
I just received my copy of CONTEMPORARY | CARIBBEAN ARCHITECTURE. As I open the book I’m greeted by the aroma that reminds me of architecture school – fresh ink and beautiful photographs. The photographs are spectacular – every architect should have this book both for inspiration and to be educated about the modern building stock in the Caribbean (my personal favorite is Roger’s Villa on pages 88 – 93)!” Enoch Bartlett Sears, AIA – publisher and founder of Business of Architecture – California, USA
Thank you very much for presenting a copy of your book, Contemporary Caribbean Architecture, 2015, to the AA Library. The book is beautifully produced and looks like it will interest many of our users – we are delighted to accept it. Eleanor Gawne, Librarian at Architectural Association School of Architecture – London, UK
It is a pleasure to comment on the enjoyable book that is Contemporary Caribbean Architecture. Louis Khan said that ‘architecture is light’ and this book amply illustrates this. A new indigenous architecture is evolving in the Caribbean playing with light and its dance over materials and structures. What we see here are confident Caribbean designers developing their own styles with a shared Caribbean response to the modern age where despite local characteristics a common Caribbean attitude to light, site and locale is evolving into a shared style and response. Enjoy this book and have confidence in the future! Alistair Kerr, Architect – Scotland, UK
I have just received and devoured my copy of your book, a significant achievement, congratulations! Four years of time well spent and well rewarded!
It is not only a first class selection of work beautifully presented; but for me personally it has provided a timely spiritual uplift, as antidote to the depressing effect of the current state of architecture in T &T. A timely reminder that perhaps some progress has been made since Independance after all. So a personal thank you. John Gillespie, Architect – Trinidad and Tobago
It is refreshing to see the long awaited publication of Contemporary Caribbean Architecture. It is a well researched book and the photography is of exceptional quality. Jaspal Bhogal,Architect, Architect – Trinidad and Tobago
I love the book. The format is great but I would have liked to see a basic line floor plan for some of the designs although I suppose that with just the pictures I was left to appreciate the composition of the buildings on their own. Lindbergh H. Alvaranga, Architect – St. Kitts
The recognition of contemporary Caribbean architecture has finally been achieved with this book. Practicing architects, students of architecture and the public in general now have a reference of what the architecture of today can be. Christopher Whyms-Stone, Architect – Jamaica
The book is really nicely presented. I have given copies to some of my family architects & engineers and they are all very impressed, particularly with the quality of the photography.
What the book confirmed is that many Architects in the Caribbean are producing excellent architecture in their quest to develop contemporary planning & aesthetics using modern technology suitable to our region. I know that you took many more photographs of each project than what was published & it certainly requires another book (s) to really highlight the projects in more detail. This could be done by doing the buildings in categories, for example: residential, which could be divided into single family & multi-family (townhouses & apartments). Commercial & Public & Institutional could be other categories. Errol Alberga, Architect – Jamaica
Kudos to the Architect & Architectural Photographer Brian Lewis. A visually stimulating pictorial of some cutting edge works of Architects in the Caribbean. Tracy Alberga, Architect – Jamaica
The book “Contemporary Caribbean Architecture” is a timely and important statement on the significance of the built Caribbean environment – every time that we pour concrete or weld steel or join wood we create an almost indelible proclamation for future generations to interpret and appreciate – Brian Lewis through his book Contemporary Caribbean Architecture is recognizing the excellent work of great Caribbean architects and he is asking us to understand the relevance of these great designs not only for our enjoyment but as an inspiration to future generations to add meaningful design to the precious Caribbean landscape that we occupy. Gregory Aboud, Developer – Trinidad and Tobago
Un mot pour te remercier pour ce beau et précieux témoignage sur l’architecture contemporaine dans nos îles. Ce grand livre d’images, bien qu’avare de mots, est au fond très narratif, en ce sens qu’il nous conte l’architecture contemporaine des îles où se distinguent influences francophones et anglo-saxonnes. C’est aussi un précieux témoignage de ce qu’est l’architecture contemporaine en zone tropicale. Il n’existe que peu de livres sur le sujet.
Ce livre témoignage mérite vraiment de figurer dans les librairies. Les exemplaires que j’ai offert ont suscité un vrai intérêt. Olivier COMPERE, Architect – Martinique
This is a note of thanks to you for this beautiful and precious testimony on contemporary architecture in our islands. This impressive picture book with minimal use of words, is in fact a narrative that speaks to us about contemporary architecture of the islands where one can distinguish the French and Anglo -Saxon influences. It is also a valuable record of what contemporary architecture is in the tropics.
There are very few books that exist on this subject. This book really deserves to be in bookstores. All the copies that I have offered to others sparked genuine interest. Olivier COMPERE, Architect – Martinique
Fellow Contemporary Caribbean Architects
By now I expect that you would have received your copy of Contemporary Caribbean Architecture and I hope you are happy with the end product. I am compiling a series of reviews and comments about the book to be published on the LUMIS website. I am hoping that you share my passion for architecture and the value of architectural photography so that you will take a few moments to write your personal comment on the book. It can be as short as just a single sentence sound or a more analytical, commentary. Do me a personal favor and just take a few moments now to send me a spontaneous response but it would be helpful if I can receive your response before the end of April.
“Maintenant, je pense que vous auriez reçu votre copie de Contemporary Caribbean Architecture et j’espère que vous êtes heureux avec le produit final. Je compilerai une série de critiques et commentaires sur le livre qui sera publiée sur le site LUMIS . J’espère que vous partagez ma passion pour l’architecture et la valeur de la photographie d’architecture afin que vous prendrez quelques minutes pour écrire votre commentaire personnel sur le livre. Le commentaire peut être aussi court qu’une seule phrase ou un commentaire plus analytique. Faites-moi une faveur personnelle et prenez quelques minutes pour me faire parvenir un commentaire spontané mais il serait utile si je peux recevoir votre réponse avant la fin de Mars.” Joyeuses Pâques
A grand gesture to architecture in our region Jeffrey Juman, Architectural Technician – Trinidad and Tobago
Congratulations on your opus magnum. Impressive at many levels. A unique, informative collection of outstanding contemporary Caribbean architectural excellence. Peter Boos, Accountant – Barbados
A true masterpiece, with breathtaking photography. A copy of which should be in every famous library throughout the World. Michael Abraham, Architectural Enthusiast – Trinidad and Tobago
Along with the other Architects of the Caribbean – I thank you for your wonderful contribution to our developing Culture. Thank you also for the honour of including my work in it.
To do your effort Justice, I have been through it a number of times and will probably continue to do so. Recognizing the danger involved, I’ve decided that I would try to write down some of the many thoughts which have gone through my mind as I’ve attempted to digest this big event.
To me the Book offers a powerful statement of the commitment of a large number of Caribbean Architects to a regional modernism – responsive to climate in its varieties of sunshades, openness and transparency and depth of roof overhangs (if not their roof slopes). To varying degrees it is also an Architecture which loves the juxtaposition of materials and loves Nature (if mostly viewed at a distance).
I’m sure that all Architects will have their list of favourites who have been left out or not been done justice. In my case, aside from the work of Ann Hodges which I accept would be inappropriate in this modernist company, I miss a deeper treatment of Roger Turton’s buildings. The one instance shown doesn’t do him justice somehow. However, perhaps you could make your next book “Tradition and the Vernacular in Caribbean Modernism”. A few of the current buildings might also make that publication.
Of great interest and discomfort to me is the fact that the book implies that Architecture is for the $Rich$. I will admit that Architecture books and photography are probably mainly for our Caribbean Elites but the book suggests inclusiveness in its title and if we are really to create Architecture which is not only contemporary but for our contemporaries, we need to hunt out the photogenic in the modest projects which I hope exist.
Linked to these thoughts is the gulf which exists between this “educated” creativity of us upper class Architects and highly creative homebuilding by the “Proles”. When we studied Architecture in foreign places, we were part of a modernist crusade against monotony and pedestrianism of the Real Estate Developer. Today, ironically, we are holding on dogmatically to a (monotonous?) Architecture rejected by anyone but the most “educated” while we are surrounded by the creativity of a new vernacular which we in turn reject.
As much as is probably possible, I think that your Book fulfils its stated aim of revealing the character of buildings through Photography. I suspect that many Architects will, like myself, miss floor plans which would probably embellish the understanding of the nature of the places without being “a step backward”.
In order of appearance, even though I appreciate most of the works photographed, the following jumped out at me and I found myself returning to them:
Lanterns Shopping Mall – Gillespie and Partners
Lovely modernist project. I like your time lapses.
Mangwana Villa – Edgly Design
Normally I’d be put off by something which seems so dominated by one experience, but this looks good and I like your pictures. Wish there was a Plan
My favourite Pictures – Congratulations!
- Heaven and Earth Spa – COCOA+Ixora Design: Beautiful design and pictures. Probably my favourite project.
- Bustamante Memorial – Errol Alberga
- Community Centre HQ – Pile et Face: Love the look of this but really need Plans. Wish I understood the Scale and it looks like there is some in interesting thinking about the relationship to an old building but I can’t figure it out.
- Domaine d’emeraude Natural Museum – Oliviere Compere: The building I would most like to have done. Love your pictures
- Fish Villa – Brisbane O’garro Alvaranga: Love the first picture
- Artist’s House and Studio – Jenifer Smith: Another favourite for its play of formality and informality and of course the relaxed play of materials
- Corner Villa – Roger Turton: Need a Plan but this seems to have all of Roger’s poetry. I think that the impact loses something because there are so many pictures. But still, I’m happy for all the pictures and want more of other of his works. [Yea – You can’t win]
Lastly I must comment on the magnificent pictures of The Phoenix which seems very out of place among its straight laced companions. [What the hell] Of course, you and I also know that your wide-angle length gives it a breadth that it doesn’t have. Still, I understand and it is certainly striking and captures the informal quality of the house. Don’t know if I mentioned, but I don’t think of it as Architecture but just as architecture.
Congratulations again and keep snapping! Pat Stanigar, Architect – Jamaica