PROFILES IN HERITAGE: A Tale of Two Conservation Architects

The CHN is pleased to bring you a "tag team" effort in our Profiles in Heritage Series. Peregrine and Brent have been collaborating on Conservation at Risk Projects in the Caribbean. They were due to present on their work in Jamaica at our now postponed inaugural conference, "Caribbean Conversations in Conservation" Conference in March, 2020 but now they bring you some details on their work in the region...

Peregrine Bryant (PB) studied architecture at Cambridge University under Sir Leslie Martin. On leaving Cambridge in 1969, he worked for the GLC Housing Division. He soon joined the practice of Benson & Benson, founded in the 1950’s by Jeremy Benson and his wife Patricia, specialising in historic building work. In 1980 he became a partner in this practice, thereafter known as Benson & Bryant. Upon Jeremy Benson’s retirement in October 1994 Peregrine Bryant Architecture and Building Conservation was formed and now operates from offices in the courtyard at Fulham Palace. He has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with many of his clients, including The National Trust, The Landmark Trust, The Vivat Trust, The Harris (Belmont) Charity, The Crown Estate, The Travellers’ and Boodle’s Clubs, as well as many private clients. He is an Architect Accredited in Building Conservation and a member of the ARB and RIBA. He is on the approved list of the London Diocesan Council. He is also a member of ASCHB, SPAB, Georgian Group (of which he is a Vice- Chairman) the Victorian Society, the Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica (Chairman), the Surveyors’ Club, and a member the Franco-British Union of Architects. He is also a Trustee of the Commonwealth Heritage Forum (CHF) which is due to be launched in March next year. In connection with his interest in Jamaica’s heritage, Peregrine has visited the island over the last twelve years, lobbying for the protection of its many surviving historic buildings and helping to arrange repairs seminars.

Dr. Brent Fortenberry (BF) specializes in the vernacular architecture of the British Atlantic world and contemporary issues in historic preservation and cultural heritage. His most recent research focuses on the cities and port towns of the Greater Caribbean, and the plantation landscapes of Barbados and the Carolina Lowcountry. At Texas A&M, Dr. Fortenberry is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture where he teaches courses in architectural history and historic preservation. Dr. Fortenberry is the Associate Director of the Center for Heritage Conservation since 2017, and currently serves as Chair of the Education Committee for the Vernacular Architecture Forum. 

What is your current position and what is your academic background?

PB: I trained as an architect at Cambridge where I spent three years on the Architecture and Fine Arts Tripos for my degree.  After a year out of practical training in the UK and USA (Chicago) I returned to Cambridge for a further two years to gain my Diploma and MA.  Since then I have been engaged working as a Conservation Architect in London and am registered as an Architect Accredited in Building Conservation.  I am a vice-Chairman of the Georgian Group and chair its Casework Committee which offers comment and advice on applications to alter or extend listed buildings in England and Wales from the late 17th Century to the first quarter of the 19th. After becoming interested in the architecture of Jamaica (see below) I joined, and am now Chairman of, the Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica (FGSJ).  I have also joined the newly formed Commonwealth Heritage Forum (CHF) as a Trustee.

BF: I trained first as an anthropologist and historical archaeologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. During my undergraduate years I was also an archaeologist on the James Fort project at Jamestown. I then completed a Master's Degree in Historical Archaeology at Bristol University in the UK. It was during this program that I began working in Bermuda with the Bermuda National Trust. I then went to Boston University to complete a Ph.D. in Archaeology, my dissertation focused on the development of the urban landscape in St. George's Bermuda, the island's early capital. After briefly lecturing at Boston University, my research focus shifted to vernacular buildings and heritage conservative, and I complete an MS in Historic Preservation from the Clemson University/College of Charleston Graduate program based in Charleston South Carolina. After completing the program. I was appointed Associate Director of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and Adjunct Faculty in the Clemson/College of Charleston Program. In 2017 I joined Texas A&M as an architecture faculty and Associate Director of the Center for Heritage Conservation. 

How did you become interested in the region’s Architectural Conservation? Where have you worked?

PB: About 12 years ago I was invited by an Anglo-American colleague in my practice to visit and advise on a building in Falmouth Jamaica, where she was a Trustee of Falmouth Heritage Renewal (a charitable body established to help train up unemployed young men in traditional building skills and then to employ them on the repair and restoration of historic buildings before returning them to the community.  I fell in love with the island, its buildings and people and have since returned every year.  For several years we organised a 3 day course on the repair and conservation of historic buildings.

BF: I became interested in the region through my time at the College of William and Mary. I was particularly interested in the connections of the Virginia and Carolina colonies to the Caribbean. I started working in Bermuda in 2007 and have collaborated with the Bermuda National Trust and National Museum of Bermuda on various architectural and archaeological projects. I currently run a winter graduate field school in St. George's, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2014 I started working in Jamaica with Ed Chappell from Colonial Williamsburg. My work on Jamaica intersected with Falmouth Heritage Renewal (where I also met Peregrine). In 2014 I also started working in Barbados collaborating with the Barbados National Trust, where I currently run a month-long undergraduate heritage conservation field school in the summers.

What have you learned about the state of architectural conservation in the Caribbean since working in the region?

PB: I can only really comment on Jamaica.  Here there are many issues, which may be shared by other countries in the Caribbean, but they include:

  1. Inadequate systematic listing of buildings of historic interest or importance (either for their intrinsic architectural quality or their historic associations).
  2. Even where buildings are listed and are nominally protected, the legislation provides little provision for enforcement - or at least buildings are destroyed without penalty.
  3. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust is understaffed and underfunded and does not have the capacity care for its own buildings or ensure that others care for theirs.
  4. There has been a perception that buildings from the colonial era are simply a recollection of a shameful past and not worth saving or protecting; the counter argument, which may be gaining ground, is not only that the buildings are a memorial to those who built them but also that we all of us need to know and understand the history of our countries and background and understand the sometimes bitter lessons from them.  On a more mundane and practical note the built heritage has real economic value as an added attraction for the tourism industry. 

BF: Many stakeholders in the region have identified the need to build heritage capacity in the region both in terms of survey and inventory as well as management. Part of my professional goals for the region is to help build up that capacity for the region and provide needed resources from my university and wider networks to aid in heritage conservation efforts. All of my work in the region involves stakeholders at all levels, and I view my role as collaborator and facilitator in heritage conservation endeavors. In my mind, there is a real need to integrate heritage (and its conservation) as a part of sustainable and liveable communities in the Caribbean and find creative ways for heritage both tangible and intangible heritage to provide a sense of individual and group identity, a connection to the past, but as valuable assets in economic development and tourism. I ultimately hope I can aid in those efforts.

Could you share some information about your projects in the Caribbean?

PB: We (FGSJ and colleagues from the US including Brent Fortenberry) have sought to help and advise on a number of buildings in Jamaica, many in Falmouth but also elsewhere on the island.  Currently we are trying to help push forward several projects in Spanish Town, which has many wonderful but fragile historic buildings.  Our principal ambittion is to help Spanish Town High School to achieve the restoration of the Old Barracks, now a ruin, so it can provide much needed additional accommodation for the School, which currently has to function on a 2 shift basis because of the lack of space to have all pupils on site at one time. This would at once serve a vital education purpose and be a beacon for how historic buildings can be adapted for contemporary use.  

One other Commonwealth wide project which Brent and I are working on currently in association with CHF is the development of a simple Heritage at Risk Register which would be capable of being completed by non-professional as well as professional people. Part of this Heritage at Risk register is training local stakehodlers through workshops in basic building condition assessment. This will provide a baseline for built heritage conditions and a network of citizen scientiest as the first line of heritage assessment after diaster events.

BF: I am working on a comparative project that focuses on the development of urban vernacular architecture with data from Bermuda, Jamaica, and Barbados. I am also working on an ARCHES-based project that will provide a comprehensive framework for recording vernacular buildings. The database platform provides comparative data analytics for historic building information.  A major part of this work is training citizen scientists to record buildings, involving stakeholders in the process of heritage documentation. With the Barbados National Trust I am working to create measured drawings of many of the island's built heritage sites, and using digital technology to not just record standing fabric but also create new digital interpretive narratives.  

Both of you have links to North America and the United Kingdom. Do you see connections in the evolution of architectural styles and conservation challenges between the Caribbean and the US/ Commonwealth? 

PB: The parallels in terms of architecural styles are very close; many elements and much detailing could be transposed to contemporary buildings in the UK without jarring; but it goes without saying that the form and layout of buildings was quickly adapted to the climatic conditions of the Caribbean.

What projects have you worked on and which ones were your favorite (and why)?

PB: In Jamaica we currently facinated by Fort Stewart, a newly identified ruin from the first half of the 18th century in the parish of St Mary. We are hoping an archaeological dig may be indertaken soon.

BF: See above for me

In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges to conservation in the Caribbean? 

PB: These relate largely to what I discussed above: issues in listing/ inventorying and inadequate legislative protections.  Also, and increasingly, climate change as well as the perennial hazards of the region - hurricanes and earthquakes are the greatest challenges to conservation in the Caribbean.

BF: Aiding in heritage resilience planning and preparedness in light of both developmental pressures and the short- and long-term impact of climate change is one of the greatest challenges for the Caribbean. In my own work we are developing region-specific heritage risk frameworks to aid in their preparedness activities.  

What impact will our post-COVID-19 reality have on conservation efforts in the region?

PB and BF: There is a significant risk that fall in revenue from tourism (particularly Cruise ships) will impact on funding available for works of repair and conservation. 

Where would you like to see strategic investments made in heritage in the Caribbean?

PB and BF: Training in conservation skills for construction workers and tradesmen - particular bricklayers and plasterers.  Also production of conservation materials - particularly lime based plasters, mortars and paint.  Also bricks.  Currently we have a project to get a brickworks started in Jamaica (the last one closed down about 50 years ago). 

If there were one building or site in the world (or the Caribbean) that you would wish to work on, which would it be and why?

PB: Only one - gosh! Needs more thought.