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Designing for the Nation - The HOPE Housing Initiative

Written By Devonne Coll, BA(Hons), MArch, PG Dip., RA, BIA

Images Supplied By Architects Cubed Inc. 

When the Barbados Labour Party government came into power in 2018, they promised to tackle the rising housing crisis in the country by pledging to build 10,000 homes over the course of five years. Many of these will be built through the HOPE (Home Ownership Providing Energy) Initiative. Local practice Architects Cubed, led by Directors Shawna Beechley and Linda Moore, have been tasked with designing the first developments within this housing revolution. 


The innovative HOPE programme allows first time homeowners to own both land and a new build house; the land is provided at no cost to the buyer and is used as collateral to qualify for the mortgage. The initiative will recoup the cost of the land by installing photovoltaic systems on every house; after 20 years, the systems will be transferred to the homeowners. It’s a refreshing take on a sustainable and affordable housing model, providing a win-win situation for both homeowners and the government.  


The first HOPE developments are Vespera Gardens, Lancaster (160 units: houses); Fustic Gardens (83 units: houses and townhouses); and Pool, St John (201 units: houses and townhouses). Architects Cubed provided the initial designs, which included single storey 2 and 3-bedroom houses, townhouses, and additional add-ons such as carports and patios. They also determined the overall arrangement of the development masterplans, which include green space.  


The Client’s Brief was to design an ‘aspirational’ house; one which spoke to the typical Barbadian vernacular of the familiar chattel house. Architects Cubed took this concept and ran with it, providing a new take on this traditional housing typology.  


“We saw the development as a solar farm with housing beneath it,” describes Shawna Beechley, which was a driving force behind a key design feature: the shaping of the roofs. One side has been angled at 13 degrees, the optimal angle to maximise solar gain based on the country’s latitude. The other side is angled at 45 degrees, referencing the slope of a typical chattel house. This asymmetry influences how the houses are arranged within the masterplan, optimising the collection of solar energy throughout.  


Understanding these site-specific conditions and incorporating them into the design not only aspires to create a sustainably functioning home, but is fundamental to the success of an initiative such as HOPE. “It’s a cleverer design than you think,” enthuses Linda Moore. “The easy thing to do would have been to design the same thing as every other house when you have these constraints. But these have style; they’re sassy!”  


Traditionally, chattel houses are constructed from timber, but here, blockwork has been used to provide more resilient structures that require less maintenance. The houses are compact: the 2-bedroom layout is approximately 800 sq. ft. and the 3-bedroom is 1,030 sq. ft. Meticulously considering the furniture layouts influenced considerations like door swing directions so the overall plan creates the most efficient use of space. Window heights and sizes have been determined using the EPD (Environmental Protection Department) requirements as well as furniture placement and joinery. These seemingly simple design moves have significant thought and process behind them, and demonstrate the value that an architect’s knowledge can bring to a project. 


The first developments are currently onsite; providing benefits to the local construction industry as well as the soon-to-be homeowners. “This was started during Covid,” Linda explains, “[and] the idea was that we would use this infrastructure to get the island’s economy kickstarted again. We would use lots of small contractors rather than one big one to spread the wealth and the work around.” This widely beneficial venture is particularly commendable, and demonstrates a sustainable model within the local construction community. 


The HOPE housing initiative is redefining the typical Barbadian housing model, whilst effectively responding to financial and climatic constraints. Architects Cubed’s modernisation of the island’s traditional housing aesthetic is the crux of what makes these developments so exciting: in demonstrating the inherent value that architects and designers can bring to the built environment, they are paving the way for how all future Barbadian housing should be designed and constructed. 

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