Sidebar: Green at a glance
A new wave of construction projects in Cayman has confirmed a move toward contemporary style.
Working in tandem, local architects and designers are marrying form and function by simultaneously building “green.”
Architect Robert Johnson is an enthusiastic proponent of contemporary design, which enables him to create a unique look that is also environmentally friendly. However, he makes sure to clarify what this design style signifies.
“People misunderstand the word contemporary,” he says.
“It literally means ‘in the moment’ or ‘new’ but people often think it means ‘modern’. For me, it means something new and new-looking. The design process searches for something novel, function-related or aesthetic, that makes it work just as well or better.”
His latest project, a retail development at 72 North Church Street that exemplifies his design philosophy, holds a prominent spot on the George Town waterfront.
The building boasts floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall Dade County-rated glass storefronts, which filter out ultraviolet rays and are the clearest glass on the market. The property is heavily insulated to bring down cooling costs and uses highly efficient 21 Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ration (SEER) air conditioning systems.
Robert also turned his designer’s eye to the outside of the building, creating a people-friendly “hardscape,” or paved area, with seating and landscape which includes seagrape and olive trees for shade.
Overall, he explains, the building has to reference its context through material, form or function, hopefully all at the same time.
Michelle Butler, of Design Studio, has also noted the shift towards contemporary and, like Robert, is quick to distance the style from modern designs.
“We have certainly found an increased interest in a contemporary aesthetic over the last few years and believe that this is now the standard rather than the exception,” she says.
“It is important to say that contemporary is as different from modern as it is from traditional in both form and function.
“Where modern tends to be minimal and very structured, contemporary takes a softer and more relaxed approach. Especially here in our island climate, our clients are looking for design that reflects and works with their lifestyle.”
Hand-in-hand with contemporary designs has been an emphasis on green technology.
In 2013, the NCB Group broke ground on residential development Cypress Pointe North, billed as a true eco-community. For their latest project, they are utilizing environmentally friendly systems in a corporate setting, explains Tania Knapik, NCB’s sales and marketing coordinator.
“We are building Cayman Technology Centre which will be one the most energy efficient commercial buildings in Cayman through the integration of solar power and geothermal cooling,” she says. Common areas will be powered by solar and tenants can choose to go solar as well. The building is slated for completion in March 2015.
NCB is also installing geothermal cooling systems in homes ranging from 3,600 square feet to 18,000 square feet, along with retrofitting residences and restaurants, among other projects.
While using conventional air conditioners, however, there is still a way to be energy efficient and save on electricity bills.
Terry Siklenka of Polar Bear Air Conditioning explains that the company sells 26 SEER-rated Lennox XC25 units, which can be at least 65 percent more efficient than older systems. He adds that these units are solar-ready so can further reduce electricity costs if the home uses a solar system.
For additional savings, he recommends coupling the air conditioner with a variable speed air handler that can help control temperature and reduce humidity to lower than 50 percent to prevent the appearance of mold in the home. The last piece of the energy-saving puzzle is the use of zones and zone dampers to only cool rooms that need it.
Another green, energy-saving method is the use of spray foam insulation. It is sprayed as a liquid, which then expands, fills in gaps and cures (hardens) in place, sealing walls to prevent air penetration and block outside noise pollution.
Tommy Sofield, of Cayman Islands Spray Foam, explains the advantages. “The product we have recommended for homes is closed-cell insulation,” he says. “Closed cell is very dense and provides the very best insulation-barrier achievable. Moreover, closed cell also adds structural support to your roof and protection in case of water-damage or hurricanes.”
One other great benefit is cost savings. “Spray foam insulation translates to Caribbean Utilities Company savings of about 30 percent to 40 percent each month, and therefore pays for itself within just a few years,” he says. “After that, the savings continue for life and also increase property value in case you ever sell.”
Solar energy is an increasingly popular green choice and Precision Solar is one of the local companies providing this technology.
“The benefits of solar in Cayman, apart from reducing your power bill, are helping to save the environment, with less diesel consumption and less pollution in the air around us,” Dale Nickason of Precision Solar points out.
GreenTech Group provides a range of products and services to improve energy efficiency and reduce a building’s carbon footprint. Among the products on offer are SunPower solar panels, wind turbines, ICF blocks, insulated doors and windows, and water furnace geothermal systems.
James Whittaker of GreenTech says his company provides the core features of a truly green home in a hot and humid climate like Cayman: sustainable design, insulated superstructure, efficient mechanical systems and clean energy production.
The company aims to launch Greentech Design Center, which will be located inside A. L. Thompson’s store in George Town by the end of 2014 to showcase a wide range of sustainable products and energy efficient technologies.
“This resource for green homes will be the first of its kind in the Caribbean and will further help to position Cayman as a leading center for sustainability in the region,” says James.
Architect Robert Johnson stresses that this emphasis on environmental friendliness is vital.
“In a way, it’s inappropriate to design something that isn’t green. It should be part of an architect’s toolkit to design efficiently; that is part of designing responsibly.”