Something Old, Something New

Architect John Allsopp has created an awardwinning concept house that combines the Caribbean way of living with sustainability. Antillean Gothic won the award for Best Architectural Innovation in the 2011 Caribbean Construction Awards. Let’s take a closer look and see what this unique housingconcept is made of.

The devastating earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 was a turning point for architect John Allsopp who personally witnessed the destruction they caused. As houses in Haiti are mostly made out of concrete, many collapsed in the aftermath of the earthquakes leaving many homeless or, more horrifically, burying the occupants in the remains of their own homes.

Experiencing all this destruction first hand motivated Allsopp to create a new kind of housing for the area, which now had great demand. This new housing had to fulfil two criteria: protect the occupants against natural disasters and endure the local climate.

Making the Most of the Surroundings

Inspiration for Antillean Gothic came from ‘shotgun houses’ which can trace their origins back to West Africa and Haiti, and are common in the southern parts of the United States. These houses are relatively small, stripped down and have little window space; however, they have been a great success as they are very functional and can be build on plot where space is limited.

Shotgun houses are usually on one level with a linear design to encourage cross ventilation. Antillean Gothic, however, introduces a second level to provide screening and circulation. The Caribbean climate is warm but the ocean brings a breeze – an element that Antillean Gothic utilises to function as natural ventilation. Generous cross ventilation is provided through doors and openings on the upper level’s supply stack ventilation.

Determining the Form

The budget for Antillean Gothic was based on a USD 50,000 budget granted by a health organisation in Haiti for private housing. Surprisingly, the small budget stimulated Allsopp to come up with fresh ideas.

At first glance, Antillean Gothic looks quirky – it has a fascinating shape, its design is very unconventional but everything about it has been thoroughly though out. In the design process, Allsopp tried to find a way to combine a two-storey building and a roof structure in a sleek way. This inspired the triangle-like form of the house: essentially it is a steep roof, curved and placed to sit on the ground.

As Allsopp wanted to keep the construction methods simple, the design of the house could not be too complex. His aim was to come up with something like the ‘mutirão’ projects in Brazil which he admires. He wanted to create house that communities can self-build, afford, manage and maintain – a truly local house.

Local produce

Antillean Gothic is a mixture of conventional and unconventional building materials. Also, the use of recycled building materials – common in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean region – was maximised in the design. Antillean Gothic uses the same materials as in most Haitian buildings but in a different way. Concrete is a commonly used building material in the area although, as mentioned, it can be dangerous when used liberally in areas where earthquakes occur due to its heavy weight. Houses should protect the occupants from nature’s powers and not put them in danger if the house collapses. As the architect John Allsopp aptly puts it: “Your house should not kill you!” With this in mind, Allsopp only used concrete to lay the foundations of the building and was not used above the living areas.

The many forms of bamboo – from raw poles to processed planks and boards – also inspired Allsopp, which he used as the main material for the building. Bamboo, a locally sourced and sustainable material, is also an alternative to future deforestation – a major problem in Haiti.

In addition, many other inexpensive and re-usable materials and objects are utilised in Antillean Gothic. For example, recycled metal mesh was used as a structural membrane and screening element, while recycled steel pipes act as bent scaffolding poles, giving Antillean Gothic its signature curved form. Other local recycled building materials include steel 55-gallon oil drums that are used as oversized gutters and for storing water for future non-potable water needs. All these materials are welded together with minimal concrete to create a sturdy ‘skeleton’ for the house, a feature that is especially important in areas where earthquakes occur.

In the design proposal, Allsopp placed wind turbine on top of the building. As the budget for Antillean Gothic is around USD 50,000, a wind turbine would certainly fall outside the budget. Actually, the wind turbine was not meant to be included in the budget but was shown for ‘proof of concept’ purposes. However, if the money could be found for a turbine, it would certainly save in electricity bills as the building would be self-sufficient energy-wise. “In generating energy and collecting water, Antillean Gothic would be a combination of high and low tech”, concludes Allsopp.

Get acquainted with BIM

Allsopp works in Amonle Studio Workshop which has already been using ArchiCAD for two years. Allsopp is relatively new to ArchiCAD and had only used the software for one year before he began designing Antillean Gothic. Before going BIM he had been using Vectorworks for over 14 years so getting familiar with a modelling workflow took some time. Antillean Gothic was especially challenging to model because unconventional material choices and design ideas required advanced techniques and they needed to be modelled from scratch. To make things even more challenging, Allsopp used a rendering software – Cinema 4D – which he was unfamiliar with.

However, Allsopp overcame the problems with the help of the ArchiCAD-Talk online forum where he received support from fellow ArchiCAD users. Allsopp admits that the online forum was of invaluable help and without it he would not be as pleased as he is with the results.

John Allsopp in currently raising funds to build a full-size prototype of Antillean Gothic. More information about Allsopp’s work on his website.

This article was published in the 1/2012 issue of ArchiMAG in March 2012. Get your copy of ArchiMAG from App Store!

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