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Plantation Architecture
by Jackie Hinkson
architecture-caribbean-trinidad&tobago
Plantation House
Courtesy: Jackie Hinkson

Jackie Hinkson speaks to Architecture Caribbean on Plantation Architecture:

You must understand that my relationship with architecture is essentially an emotional one, not a technical or professional one. So, what I say here is subjective and based on fond memory and may be inadequate. My exposure to plantation architecture dates back to my childhood when my father, a country boy, whose job in the 1950’s as a traveling officer took him all over the country and often specifically to coconut estates, took us, the older boys, with him.

Several things struck me about the main plantation house. First it almost always stood on a mound or a hill so that it dominated and assumed an imposing look, symbolizing ownership and authority. A gabled portico usually led to impressive steps giving the main entrance a grand appearance. There was always a spacious verandah, with a balustrade that looked out onto the surrounding land. It offered relief from the tropical heat. Several windows, often jalousied Demerara windows, opened outwards creating maximum ventilation. The interior living and dining rooms were spacious and more elegant. The ceilings were very high and the doors equally tall and led to bedrooms. The tops of the interior walls showed open geometric patterns that allowed ventilation between rooms. The kitchen and pantry areas were more plain and functional. These plantation houses were all wooden and topped with gabled roofs that ended off with elegant finials.

Sometimes, near to the main house was a gazebo-like structure that, I assume, was a temporary waiting or resting spot for members of the household. The surrounding structures, which stood normally at some distance away, could be offices or an overseer’s or manager’s house, not as large or as imposing as the Great House, but echoing it in it’s colour and gable roof, or the workers’ barracks which were normally very humble and simple structures. Also to be seen on the plantation were structures devoted mainly to the storing and drying of the produce, be it cocoa or coconut. These were long and rectangular and were topped with a sliding gable roof. The geometry of it’s gable roofs, The general rectilinearity, relieved with touches of ornateness, of plantation architecture, made an impressive picture when viewed against a backdrop of greenery that might include stately palms and grand Samaan trees. 

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