Many developers and architects value maintaining a balance between the built environment and natural surroundings. As in major cities, the new urbanism movement embraces ecologically sound habits. Cayman’s construction industry is booming, fueling economic growth, but what is being done to ensure the island’s natural heritage is preserved for future generations?
InsideOut asked three experts to weigh in on development while considering the natural environment. How – and why – do you strike a balance?
Dart Real Estate
Thoughtfulness, creativity and innovation are an inherent part of our approach to sustainable development. Starting with careful site planning, we look at what is there, what we can integrate into the site design and how outdoor built spaces can harmonize with the natural environment.
Opportunities presented by the site must also be studied from various perspectives including guest experience, operations and maximization of open space.
On beachfront land, sustainable development centers on setback from the Caribbean Sea. At Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and The Residences at Seafire, we were able to set the main buildings 140 to 500 feet from the high water mark. A deep setback makes so much possible: prevention of beach erosion, which allows the shoreline to ebb and flow naturally; retention of natural vegetation that protects the beach and provides an amenity (Seafire’s shaded seagrape groves are some of its most desired seating areas); a more hospitable environment for nesting sea turtles; and more green spaces between the buildings and the beach.
With coastal development, you can’t underestimate the impact of a powerful arrival experience. Traditionally in Cayman, visitors and owners don’t see the sea until they open the drapes in their beachfront rooms. But with an elevated building, guests get a powerful first look. At Seafire, a tantalizing glimpse of the beach and sea between the hotel and residence buildings sets the scene. Guests then enter the main lobby and are greeted with stunning views through floor-to-ceiling windows.
By elevating the structure, we can constrain the building footprint, resulting in less developed land. Parking and services are tucked underneath, so more of the beachfront land opens up for amenities and recreation such as a shaded splash pool for small children, a public bike and walking trail or hidden hammocks nestled in palm trees.
In tandem with the deep setback, this creates a ground plane that is significantly more spacious, walkable and engaging, creating an effortless flow between the built and natural environment.
Senior Architect/Senior Project Manager
Chalmers Gibbs Architects
The choice of whether to “go green” or not is often simply linked to the dollar and we as designers and building owners have the option to seek environmental certifications such as LEEDS, Green Star, Energy Star and Green Global for our projects.
This does help to provide us with some incentive and direction to reach a certain plateau.
However, in endeavouring to have an environmentally sound and inspiring development, there is one most important element which is often overlooked. This is education.
What does it mean to “go green”?
I was fortunate enough to work in a small Asian country a few years ago. One day a friend of mine, a school teacher, told me how he had observed his students’ parents throwing their rubbish into the main river. This had been an acceptable practise for hundreds of years.
He arranged to meet with the 20 students’ families after school one Friday evening. At this meeting he gave them all a rubbish bin and suggested that instead of throwing the rubbish in the water, they should put it in the biodegradable bags he had also bought for them.
His serotonin level was peaking when he left that day, as he felt that he had achieved something wonderful for the village. When he returned after the weekend, he saw 20 bags of rubbish floating down the river.
At the end of the day, we need to understand the big picture and what it means to go green.
Are we doing it for the right reasons? Is it for certification? Is it to win clients? Is it a trend which may pass? Or is it something so altruistic that we are driven to help this planet remain beautiful for generations to come? This is what I believe it should be.
To address the paradox between economic growth and preservation of the natural environment, we must find a way to balance the two. We must allow them to coexist through the use of renewable energy sources and sound environmental polices while acknowledging the benefits of future development.
We are all aware that Cayman has a finite amount of land but, fortunately, zoning polices and organizations such as the National Trust for the Cayman Islands help protect and control over-development.
As developers, the onus lies with us to build as responsibly as possible, taking into consideration the surrounding natural environment, practicing sustainable development by adhering to green building norms, reducing waste and utilizing and integrating renewable energy as much as possible.
Additionally, by ensuring the efficient use of resources such as energy, water and building materials on long-term building maintenance activities, we can reduce the burden on the environment and also serve to provide a healthy living environment to the building’s occupants.
It is critical to consider these environmental aspects right from the stage of site selection, design and operational stages and not just at the construction phase. All of those efforts can help us achieve a harmonious balance between development and sustainability.
Construction is the third largest industry in Cayman and we would be remiss to not acknowledge its importance in terms of the country’s economic growth and our ability to compete on an international level with other top Caribbean tourist destinations.
NCB is committed to building with Cayman’s future in mind and this is evident throughout all of our projects. Careful consideration is given to reducing our impact on the environment and natural surroundings from planting/maintaining indigenous shrubs and trees and using cisterns to store water to building commercial buildings that are completely off-grid, thereby significantly decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.