Jamaican history is inextricably intertwined with its architecture. The cultural influences of the colonization and subsequent modernization periods in the Caribbean are apparent in Jamaica’s residential architecture. Of course, the capital city of Kingston is perhaps the best example of these tendencies. So, if you plan to rent or purchase a property here, you will be able to find various types of homes in Jamaica. So, let’s take a closer look at the most prominent architectural styles you can see in the streets of Jamaica.
A short history lesson on Jamaican architecture
From historical colonial plantations to state-of-the-art contemporary architecture, this country is a true gem for people who appreciate variety.
Historical homes in Jamaica made from locally sourced materials
Starting from vernacular buildings built by Jamaica natives, these pre-Columbian era structures are mostly made from wood and other natural materials sourced from the immediate surroundings. Unfortunately, since these materials are quite fragile, there are not too many of these buildings nowadays. This is a shame since they capture what life looked like before the colonization of the Caribbean.
The arrival of the British to Jamaica
After the arrival of the British, the traditional way of building homes quickly became obsolete. Instead, Jamaican plantation owners wanted to display their loyalty to the British crown. Hence, the architectural and cultural ideals of the British were adopted and adapted to suit the Jamaican tropical climate.
Over time, this preoccupation with British culture brought about the Jamaican interpretation of Georgian architectural principles dominant in Britain at the time. Hence, nowadays, we have homes that represent a unique combination of Georgian architectural elegance and Jamaican breezy, tropical influences.
Western architecture as a source of inspiration
Further on, Jamaican architectural developments increasingly rely on popular European styles such as baroque and neoclassicism. Fast forward to today, and this tendency to keep up with Western architectural movements and innovations remains. If you appreciate sleek and practical contemporary minimalism, Jamaican homes built in this century will not disappoint you.
Now, let us examine each period of Jamaican architectural development in more detail.
Jamaican Georgian architecture
As mentioned, many private homes and public buildings from the 1750s to 1850s follow this architectural style. Yet, they are also very functional due to challenging Jamaican weather. This means Jamaican Georgian homes are sturdy enough to withstand hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters common in the Caribbean.
These buildings are fascinating both as historical remnants and outstanding architectural accomplishments. They combine ornate balustrades, lattices, cornices, and other external elements such as wide stairways reflecting Georgian symmetry and elegance with practical structural features that make them resistant to sweltering heat, humidity, and natural disasters. A typical representative of this architectural style is the Devon House in Kingston.
What differentiates Jamaican Georgian architecture from architecture developed in other Caribbean countries is the use of stilts or pilings. They elevate the structure and enable air circulation. This is a uniquely Jamaican building strategy. It prevents rot and humidity from reaching the ground floors. It also helps the structure to remain cool. In addition, this feature keeps insects, rats, and snakes at bay. So, if you plan to invest in Jamaican real estate and want to purchase a safe, well-built historical building, then definitely consider finding a home built in this period.
Jamaican Vernacular Architecture
As you can imagine, Georgian homes in Jamaica are hard to come by. They have an immense historical value, and their current market value reflects that. For a more affordable option, you might consider Jamaican vernacular homes built in the 18th century. These types of homes in Jamaica were common among tenant farmers but also descendants of freed slaves.
An interesting architectural property of vernacular architecture is the layout that prevents kitchen smells and smoke from entering the living area. They have pretty spacious rooms, as well.
Almost all houses in Jamaica have a veranda and a porch roof separated from the main structure. This is, of course, not a coincidence. The home’s structure stays intact, and only the porch roof gets damaged when hurricanes hit Jamaica. Also, if the roof has mahogany shingles, it is a traditional pre-1930s Jamaican home.
If you decide to relocate to Jamaica from the States, knowing distinctive features can help you assess the property, determine its age and architectural style, and negotiate the price accordingly. Home buying and moving overseas come with their own set of challenges. Hence, you may want to hire assistance to make sure everything goes smoothly. A hassle-free relocation from the US to Jamaica requires a lot of patience, preparation, and effort, so make sure you hire dependable international movers to help you transfer your belongings to this beautiful island.
Jamaican architecture from the mid-19th century onwards
In the second half of the 19th century, Jamaica has seen an increase in immigrants from other European countries aside from the UK. The Spanish solidified the veranda as a Jamaican trademark architectural feature. The 20th century introduced modern building techniques and materials. These innovations made ground for the building of tall commercial building complexes in cities like Kingston.
Furthermore, a trend of building residential homes with thick walls and small windows ensued. Also interestingly, post-modern Jamaican architects drew inspiration from old types of homes in Jamaica. So, Georgian houses and traditional wooden cottages remained a staple in modern Jamaican architecture. As a result, most modern buildings in this day and age retain that old-timey Jamaican charm.
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