Making connections

My Ti Kai, My Home.

Olive Bell

Olive Bell, the Dominican architect remembers life in a tikai as a child and how that experience inspired her to become an architect.

Olive Bell was part of the team who collaborated on the making of the just published book, ‘Still Standing’, about the vernacular architecture of Dominica. She grew up in a ti kai on the island. Here she reflects on her childhood home and how it inspired her to specialise in environmental architecture. This picture shows a ti kai from Atkinson that is featured in the book.

“Other books have been written and published in and around the Caribbean on vernacular architecture, Caribbean styles, gingerbread houses and the likes but none have resonated so strongly with me as this one has. ‘Still Standing’ captures the essence of what I experienced as a child growing up in a tikai in Giraudel; those memories are precious and I would not exchange this for anything else.

“Up to the age of 5, I grew up in a 10 feet x 14 feet ti kai that housed my mom and her four children, but as the family grew up, the house was extended to cater for the growing children. (The footprint of that ti kai still exists today). The house was made up of two rooms – living and sleeping area. In the small sleeping area were two metal beds, one which seemed like a double on which the three girls slept ( including myself), and a smaller bed on which my mom and younger brother slept. My Dad died when I was 22 months old. A larger outdoor kitchen, outdoor bathing facility and outdoor toilet (latrine) provided other amenities.

“I only remember going to bed and waking up in the morning. Very little time was spent indoors but who would want to remain indoors with so much stimulation on two-acres outdoors. There was an abundance of fruits of various kinds, vegetables and animals to attend to: rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, one pig and at least one cow at anyone time. I got to play with some, and they also provided us with our meats. Sadly, that was the nature of things then!

“On very rainy days, the outdoor kitchen, which also included a built-in concrete oven, provided us with a point of entertainment and play with our many cousins. My Mom enjoyed baking all kinds of cakes and pastries, a skilled she had learnt during her eight years period of baby sitting with the children of Frank Collymore in Barbados, prior to having her own children. We also played board games such as snakes and ladder, nine men’s Morris and our famous ‘ship sail’ game with roasted corn from our garden.

“These were humble beginnings, but definitely not thought of as poverty for I never experienced a lack. It was just a way of life, and one that propelled me into who I am today…An environmental architect.

“I could not have articulated so clearly then as I do now, but in retrospect it was from that nurturing and that environment in which I was immersed that I developed my passion for environmental architecture.

“My first recollection of my own awareness of space and form and architecture was at the age of eight. It was the way in which the rays of light fell softly into the room, the ways in which the hue changes as the day goes by, the way the air flowed freely into these spaces and scent of the local wood that created a oneness with the space. It was not the size of the ti kai but the aura they emanated. It is the spirit of the place that those people were able to capture and build around it. It is the unspoken language of architecture, I call it the 4th dimension, it is what resonates with our own being, and it is that very essence that has become the driving principle in all of my designs even to today.

“‘Still Standing’, is a book worth having, reading. It will help reunite you to that which we have lost – the oneness with nature. And in the words of one of my favourite architects Frank Lloyd Wright: ‘The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before it was built.’