Why Can’t We Have a Parliament Building To Be Proud Of?

September 23rd, 2015

I spent this morning at Gordon House. It’s a nondescript building that anyone passing down Duke Street would completely overlook, if they did not know Kingston. The thought crossed my mind: Why are we stuck with this sad little apology of a Parliament building?

The shining white Shaare Shalom Synagogue can be found at 92 Duke Street, a few doors up from Gordon House. (My photo)

The Shaare Shalom Synagogue can be found at 92 Duke Street, a few doors up from Gordon House. It is solid and imposing. (My photo)

The downtown area has some perfectly splendid buildings, many of a religious nature; including, on the same street, the exquisitely white, solidly built Synagogue (which, if you have not explored it, is also quite entrancing inside, with its very rare and unusual sandy floor and rich mahogany). The Synagogue was rebuilt after the 1907 earthquake. Also on Duke Street is the spacious headquarters of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, which makes its own architectural statement; a historic colonial building with character, if a little the worse for wear.

The appealing and historic headquarters of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, also on Duke Street.

The appealing and historic headquarters of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, also on Duke Street. (My photo)

We can find a variety of fairly grand buildings downtown, although downtown generally has seen better days. But these buildings really stand out. Even Liberty Hall, the former headquarters of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), is not particularly beautiful in my view, but has been refurbished; it is set back from the street and it has a certain presence.

The East Street entrance to the Institute of Jamaica, which also opens on Tower Street. It is a spacious and most attractive building.

The East Street entrance to the Institute of Jamaica, which also has a fine entrance on Tower Street. It is a spacious and most attractive building.

The Institute of Jamaica, with its imposing entrance and stately staircase (I especially adore the chandelier) is an absolute gem. The Ward Theatre, although painfully crumbling, still ranks as one of the must-see buildings downtown. I desperately wish heaven would open up and deposit a large, fluttering crowd of dollar bills (U.S., not Jamaican) for it to be restored to its former beauty. Thirty years ago it did not look like this.

The Wesley Church is a large and magnificent building on Tower Street on a large piece of land. It  is in a tragic state of disrepair. Could it be converted into a Parliament building, or would that be wrong? It's certainly grand enough. (My photo)

The Wesley Church is a large and magnificent building on Tower Street on a large piece of land. It is in a tragic state of disrepair. Could it be converted into a Parliament building, or would that be wrong? It’s certainly grand enough. (My photo)

And speaking of heaven, there are the downtown churches, all with enormous character and historical interest: the St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk  for example, and the red brick Gothic delight that is the Coke Methodist Church (both also rebuilt after the 1907 earthquake). Can someone please, please rescue the Wesley Church on Tower Street? It is almost big enough to house our Parliament comfortably, come to think of it, with plenty of land around it.

I suppose the point I am making about these wonderful buildings is that they all have considerable character. Some may have seen better days, but you still stop and look at them. But the seat of our Parliament? It’s simply dullsville, a building with a flat frontage, squeezed between other buildings that you would not give a second glance. It doesn’t even want to be noticed. Compare this to other Parliament buildings in the Caribbean. I rest my case.

Now here is an impressive Parliament building: the Red House of Trinidad and Tobago occupies a whole block.

Now here is an impressive Parliament building: the Red House of Trinidad and Tobago occupies a whole block.

Inside, it’s even worse. You go in the front door (it hardly deserves the name “entrance”) and enter a warm (not air conditioned) cramped hallway that can barely accommodate three people standing up. The office to the left (a kind of waiting room) has a few dowdy seats for half a dozen people. Climbing a  staircase, one reaches the actual chamber – its ugly outside wall presently well disguised by draperies in the Jamaican flag colors. This does at least help to cheer it up. The chamber where parliamentarians sit (the Upper and Lower Houses are not separate) is reasonably well equipped; but, as everywhere else in the building, the once-beige carpets are worn and have been cleaned far too many times to actually look clean any more. As elsewhere in the building, the lighting is poor (unless it’s just my bad eyesight that gives that impression). It’s plain dingy.

As for the public gallery, that is worst of all. You have to climb up more stairs, and go through a very narrow doorway, into a complicated system of seating on a raised dais. It is exceedingly cramped and boxed in, and the noise of traffic on Duke Street is quite audible.

On a smaller scale is the Barbados Parliament - somewhat church-like but very appealing, with the flag flying proudly at the top of the tower and a clock that works. (Photo: shazasscrapbook.com)

On a smaller scale is the Barbados Parliament – somewhat church-like but very appealing, with the flag flying proudly at the top of the tower and a clock that works. (Photo: shazasscrapbook.com)

I am not exaggerating, believe me. Our Parliament building is one of the ugliest buildings in Kingston, both inside and out. It is also completely and utterly inaccessible for disabled people; it would have to be completely redesigned to accommodate people in wheelchairs or with any kind of disability. So, it actually excludes this disadvantaged segment of the population from attending Parliament.

There are huge areas of empty land in downtown Kingston. The site of the old Myrtle Bank Hotel near the waterfront, alongside the Bank of Jamaica – with its lonely tall palm trees the only relic of the hotel’s former grounds – would be lovely for a Parliament building, overlooking the harbor. There are acres of space in the bleak and dusty National Heroes Park; what a great site that would be, alongside the monuments for our National Heroes.

I know we have been told about plans, and how there is no money. I wonder if we will ever have the funds to build at least a half-way decent Parliament building – or even to fix up or redesign one of the many decaying edifices downtown for that purpose? Will we ever have a really impressive building, that we could pose for our pictures outside? One that would be a stop on all the visitors’ tours?

“Oh, you must see our Parliament building,” you would say to your dear auntie, visiting from overseas. “It has won architectural awards.” Click! Click!

Yes, we want a building that will make our hearts flutter with a little bit of that national pride that we are always searching for. A building is more than bricks and mortar and concrete. It is a symbol of our democracy, a reassuring presence; it embodies dignity, solidity and permanence.

Can someone wave a magic wand, please? 

And here is the simply splendid Parliament Building in Georgetown, Guyana (which has a population of under 800,000, less than a third of Jamaica's).

And here is the simply splendid Parliament Building in Georgetown, Guyana (a country with a population of under 800,000, less than a third of Jamaica’s).

FacebookTwitterWhatsAppGoogle+Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner.
The Gleaner reserves the right not to publish comments that may be deemed libelous, derogatory or indecent.
To respond to The Gleaner please use the feedback form.

11 Responses to “Why Can’t We Have a Parliament Building To Be Proud Of?”

  1. NM Palmer says:

    It would be good to build a parliamentary building that stood out in Kingston. One that is both modern and traditional. One that is symbolic of both our African and somewhat European roots. What would be even better is giving local architect s and utech engineers the task of planning such a building.

  2. Chris Lue, Architect says:

    You need to make an appointment to visit the Jamaican Institute of Architects Office and view the documents of The late Architect Vayden McMorris FJIA, ( kindly on loan from his son ) for a Parliament Building Architectural Design Competition that he prepared in the late 1990s.at the request of the government of Jamaica.
    Christopher Lue, Past President ,Jamaican Institute of Architects.

  3. Douglas B St A Gooden says:

    The maturity of governance required for an indenpendent country does not exist from the evidence so to expect any real development options sympotamic of sophistication is fleeting and illusionary at best.

  4. Douglas B St A Gooden says:

    The maturity of governance required for an indenpendent country does not exist from the evidence so to expect any real development options symptomatic of sophistication is fleeting and illusionary at best.

  5. Evan Archer says:

    First , you need to have more Parliamentarians , which you are proud of ; then afterwards , …… the building ! !

  6. EmmaLewis says:

    Yes! In that order… :-)

  7. EmmaLewis says:

    This is a little depressing but one can only hope for better!

  8. EmmaLewis says:

    Dear Chris: Thank you for this information. This would be great. I had heard that designs had been drawn up, some time ago. Well, not that long ago. I wonder if they ever considered that design seriously? Did Mr. McMorris win the competition?

  9. EmmaLewis says:

    Absolutely. I agree with your ideas.

  10. Ronald Blake says:

    Somebody correct me if I am wrong, and I very well may be, but I think the National Heritage Trust building (erstwhile “Headquarters House”) was actually our previous parliament building.

  11. EmmaLewis says:

    And that is a lovely building just nearby on Duke Street, although in need of some refurbishing from the looks of it. I think you are right! Will check, I should really know shouldn’t I?