A new parliament building, African shibboleths and the death of imagination


Friday, October 19, 2018

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The idea of a parliament set apart from people it serves in some ivory tower is obsolete and will not work for us. We will give Members of Parliaments good workspace, but increase face-time accountability — new house, new rules!

Houses of Parliament juxtaposed with a palace of justice as our final court in an iconic, multi-use complex with commercial space to service the debt is our best solution. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, work it out!

We went to the design exhibition at Jamaica Conference Centre with high hopes. The centre itself is banal with flat-pack furniture; it is a nightmare to maintain, yet was once touted as iconic — yeah? The guard unsure, space eerily deserted, but the exhibits confirm there are no creative industries only creative individuals, whether an economist, manager, consultant, architect, or designer. In this century, engineering, science, technology lead creativity at the macro — think the Burj, 40-foot container — and micro — Iphone, keyhole surgery— levels and delivers amazing benefits.

At the exhibit we saw no “takeyourbreathaway” images; just works by friends, my daughter's former partners, but no “Eureka!”

Architecture is sensory, so Sydney Opera House excites on sight. We sprint world class; Africa's David Adjaye, Kéré, Makeka are world-class architects; we need to sprint more! Public art evokes strong feeling. The cultural and classical tones may be exquisite, but to the 70 per cent illiterate who pay the nation's debt, “It big an' pretty fi chue?” — that's high praise.

Our second viewing was good; giant Swallowtail butterfly, slave chain, Doctor bird; Africanist; the aura of famous works hung like a pall over the exhibits; yet Jamaican aesthetic grows; competent, no shock or awe but they design for designers.

Public art is like contact sport — bold! These designs ignore the zeitgeist, so to them the Shard, Burj, One World, Petronas do not exist. Global means global! Was the brief defective? We liked one design — no overreach or strain for an effect; one we dubbed “Switchblade”; cute, but gimmicky. One is disturbed — seek help! We have no grand artistic legacy, but a tendency to the Luddite (vide statuary as Bob Marley's, Queen Victoria's) and we live in a cruel space.

Tainos were modest; no soaring as at 'Chichen Itza' on the mainland. Africa too was reserved, but Islam invaded and, voilá, grand mosques built. Europeans arrived 800 years later as traders and built nothing. East Africa's ruins as Gedi, Kilwa Kisani have remains of grand mosques in clay towns that provided the Indian Ocean trade with slaves for date palm and sugar cane plantations in Arabia. Shards of pottery attest to trade with the Yuan and Ming dynasties. China got exotic animals, plants for the imperial zoo, pharmacopoeia and pigmies as curiosities. Finally, the British gave us a country with 350-year-old St Andrew Parish Church and public buildings which served us for generations. Will we build for centuries?

What might we expect in new Houses of Parliament? Structures to last or like our airports, public offices expanded every few years? We want an iconic complex, with cost-recovery elements; fit for purpose, to lift spirits, exorcise shibboleths and sync with Garvey's world view. We are a 92.1 per cent black nation in black-ruled islands created by trans-Atlantic slavery — amazing! Millennia of Africa's trans-Sahara and Indian Ocean export slavery led to nothing like this. In America, Brazil blacks are more, rich but they will never run a nation. We are blessed! Yet fear of heights and the sea is in our DNA and designs. Africa has the longest coastline, but it did not go to sea for war, commerce or curiosity and had no indigenous soaring structures. Whites swim (even landlocked nations) and love the sea. Blacks hate the sea and love terra firma as fears of our fathers guide our choices. Height is vision, strength, resilience, respect (One World was rebuilt after 9/11) and a new skyscraper complex may banish doubt and inspire.

We see Kingston as a tourist Mecca by 2050. We want a 56-floor skyscraper (or twin towers of 30 floors each) to match our age; at its base, our parliament — the best of local designs. Cost recovery is crucial, so a few floors should house our offshore financial centre; global corporate offices; dedicated express lifts to floors of in-bond shoppers — cruise ship; north coast day trip; air charter from USA, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republican, Central America; proprietary shops by Prada, Apple, Red Stripe, Blahnik, Sunseeker, or Fincantieri Yachts; Nike, L'Oréal, Rolex, Uniqlo, Choo, Dior, D&G, Blue Mountain, Godiva, Appleton, Gucci, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Abbey Road Studios; a conservatory/arts theatre to seat 1,000; penthouses with pool, helipad; Gordon Ramsay and our best chefs on tap, gaming and entertainment 24/7. Business will pay for the building, not taxpayers!

We will grow into it, and our grandkids will bless us. We do not need this building; nor did we need the Negril highway when Manley built it; look at us now! From slavery we now rule a nation; who would have thunk it? This project can be an asset, not a liability. If we build it they will come. Stay conscious!


Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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