The architectural setting for the Jamaican Great house and the way of living it encompassed speaks volumes. Industry was deemed efficient because human hands were so cheap (they still are). The plantation was a complex creation ensuring production by enforcing quasi geometrical relationships and a systemaitc approach to it. All of it powered by human bondage. The great House has a luxurient relationship to the landscape, but does not neglect its duties to exercsie its lordship of the eye, planted atop or against a slope, visible and all-seeing.
Is it important to preserve the historical fabric of
Slavery was a holocaust. The word
holocaust means a complete sacrifice, a great slaughter. It was insidious and
awful. Slavery has, of course, always been with us and survives even now in
pockets of the world. What made
The temptation is to forget. In
But that is where a problem begins to manifest itself. Take Rose Hall in St. James. It was built between 1770-1780, at the height of the transatlantic sugar trade. It is a beautiful exercise in Early Palladian classicism. Set against the Hill, it is also a classic example of the haughty Great House with its “lordship of the eye” surveying the lands below while at the same time well removed from the noise and activity of the works. The main rectangular volume is set upon an arcaded and balustraded plinth dramatising the house’s setting by making it rise up. A double staircase leads to an arched central doorway flanked with columns supporting a vestigial but elegant entablature. This sets off the thin line marking the separation between the two main storeys, which are ever so slightly stepped in relation to each other. Note also the beautiful rhythm of the windows, whereby the central projecting pavilion crowds an uneven number of openings to emphasise the central entrance while the wings take on a more relaxed cadence.
This is not the house of horrors we expect. If it is formidable, it is not an ugly building, even though it might have grown to be hated. The irony is that colonial architecture generally took good care of its occupants. How do we resolve this paradox? What does this tell us? It tells us two things. On the one hand it reminds us that wolves often come in sheep’s clothing and, on the other, that sheep are not to be held responsible for the activities of wolves. Therefore we could, in preserving, achieve that rare satisfaction of killing two birds with one stone. We preserve the memory of something unequivocally awful with the important lesson that things are not always what they seem, and at the same time, we can delight in the real architectural qualities of the monument.