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Finding new life in Georgian architecture with COCOA

A brief conversation with Bryan Bullen, director of Caribbean Office of Co-operative Architecture (COCOA)

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your company, team, work, school, mission, etc.

I am Grenadian by birth, but, spent my formative years in Toronto, Canada. My tertiary education consists of an honors degree in art and design from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), and later a Masters of Architecture degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC), under the tutelage of the late architect, Raymond Kappe. Upon my return to the Caribbean, I began my practice of architecture, and in 2000 I started the firm, Caribbean Office of Co-operative Architecture (COCOA).

COCOA’s office is located in the state of Grenada, the second most southernly of the Windward islands in the Caribbean chain. Over the past 20 years, our practice has amassed an extensive and diverse body of work ranging from single family homes, residential developments, resorts, commercial and institutional buildings, in addition to urban planning projects. COCOA won the ABS Design Award in 2011 for the best small house, and have also won design competitions to include the Grenada House of Parliament which was built in 2018, and the Ariza Credit Union Carriacou, completed in 2019.

The Caribbean sun, sea and sky are the three vital elements that provides inspiration our work.  Although much beauty can be derived from these elements, their volatility requires us to design climate resilient buildings. We are advocates of environmental protection, and the retention of our cultural assets. We relish innovation, and strive to create a brand of contemporary architecture that speaks of its place, but simultaneously has wider global appeal.  

What inspired you to enter the design competition?

Quite often Grenada’s historical buildings are either renovated poorly or destroyed with little regard for their intrinsic value. Without legislation in place to effectively prohibit the loss of our buildings, their existence will continue to be threatened. The Adaptive Reuse Competition afforded us the opportunity to showcase how the particular Georgian architype of the colonial period could be transformed by the infusion of a new program. Our strategy of framing the new building within the core of the old brick façade, provided a stark contrast of the old and new construction. The end result is a building which asserts its presences as a relic of past generations.

Similar to other historical sites in Grenada, including our magnificent forts, Georgian buildings, and Great Houses which are in a state of disrepair, we hope to (re)educate the general population of the country to have a better appreciation for the worth of these important buildings. Ultimately, we strive for the enforcement of legislation that will mandate the protection of our buildings.  

What are some challenges you overcame in creating your design?

The alleviation of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and the mitigation of frequent flooding were the main design challenges. To overcome these issues, we first separated the program to allow for maximum onsite ground level parking. Vehicles were then able to move freely with the traffic flow of the town by entering the site from one major artery and exiting onto the other.

Our decision to elevate the commercial spaces, was the ‘big idea’ that completed the resolution of the programme. The spaces of the facility are protected from flooding while the elevated plaza simultaneously create a reprieve for patrons away from the busyness at street level.

Subsequently, Green Building technologies were integrated within the overall fabric of the building. The solar canopy, Low-E glazing, solar chimney and reflection pond all contribute to a holistic design strategy.  

The end result is the creation of a dynamic building that draws its inspiration from its history and the environment, and posits a new vision of architecture for the advancement of its people.

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