Understanding Caribbean Architecture and how architectural glazing plays its part


As with all places throughout the world, Caribbean architecture is an eclectic mix of its history, its people and the role it plays today in the global economy and tourism sector. Caribbean architecture today draws influences from the Amerindians, Dutch, Africa, Spanish, French and other European colonisers through the years.

Modern architecture in the Caribbean draws influences from its past whilst making use of modern architectural and building ethos’ is such as sustainability. The beautiful landscape of the Caribbean islands plays a key part in architecture on the islands throughout the ages. Ensuring buildings are built to withstand the harsh environment has shaped the architecture you see here, as well as maximising on the landscape’s beautiful vistas buying ensuring that houses are open, connected to nature and utilise windows in strategic ways.

The early history of Caribbean architecture

Going back as far as recorded history allows, it’s recorded in various sources that the indigenous cultures of the Caribbean islands lived in harmony with their environment. When the first settlers arrived from Europe on the Caribbean islands round or oval huts were used extensively, made of timber with conical roofs made of palms or grass.

Colonisers from Europe introduced wall construction as well as wooden beams and shingles for roofs. Stone was a rarity through the Caribbean islands (with the exception of Barbados) so single room thatched cottages were often used with walls made of clay or straw.

As Europeans descended on the Caribbean islands and the slave trade developed in earnest, wealthy planters and merchants began to build houses on the island of red brick and ballast from the ships.

The early examples of colonial architecture in the Caribbean draws influences from the mixture of European settlers that came to the islands. From Spain, the Mudejar style of architecture is evident in early Caribbean architecture which is a fusion of Christian and Arabic architecture that developed in mediaeval Spain. Many examples of this type of colonial architecture are evident in places like Havana.

Another architectural style that made its way across the ocean to the Caribbean islands is Baroque. This style of architecture is flamboyant and sophisticated and eventually fused with Mudejar architecture to create styles like Cuban Baroque.

Rich colours and bold designs tie the architecture of the Caribbean back to African influences whilst large verandas and community plazas have definite Spanish heritage. Fancy designs and ironwork show ties to the Dutch and French settlers of colonial Caribbean. The addition of a second storey onto buildings is also a mainly European influence. Victorian influences can be seen through wooden fretwork and decorative cast iron metal elements to buildings

As the Caribbean islands were developed by settlers, historical sugar plantations often were designed with view capturing verandas and shaded porches to capture the natural beauty of the Caribbean landscape. High ceilings were paired with large windows to capture the view. They had to be designed with the climate in mind to keep the wind and rain out.

Structural Glazing St Lucia Sugar Beach

Adapting architecture to the weather of the Caribbean islands

When the first settlers arrived from Europe on the Caribbean islands, they brought with them their own architectural styles and influences from their native lands. However, this traditional European architecture had to be adapted for the location they found themselves in. The architecture in the Caribbean is all about designing for the climate, staying cool, maximising shade, providing ventilation and protecting against storms.

Many examples of Caribbean architecture include features such as internal courtyards where the building is laid out around a central space. Arcades create shade between different areas of the home and allow high levels of ventilation and air movement through the space. The central courtyard and the covered open spaces also tie into the Caribbean culture for outdoor living and communal spaces.

Doors within these Caribbean houses are often tall with small windows that can be opened for ventilation.

Vaulted ceilings and large atriums provide higher internal ceilings and keep rooms cooler due to larger air circulation. High clerestory windows provide high level ventilation and light for high vaulted spaces. Roof structures to Caribbean buildings are typically gabled to allow high levels of rain and water run-off from the tropical storms.

The islands of the Caribbean are a challenging landscape and weather plays an important part in the construction, placement and design of all buildings. It is important when designing buildings on the Caribbean islands that they are designed in a way that the interiors stay cool through the consistently high temperatures throughout the year. Maximising ventilation in shade is hugely important and covered patios or large verandas or overhangs are key architectural features of many Caribbean homes. Large, shuttered windows are also a popular addition to Caribbean architectural designs.

In order to prevent hurricane damage, structures are often positioned to avoid direct damage from the eastern winds. Hurricane resistant glazing or hurricane shutters are often specified, and roofs are reinforced and ventilated.

To protect the overall structure from hurricane damage inventive construction methods can be put into place. For example, as stated above veranda’s or surrounding porches are popular in Caribbean architecture however, they are often constructed as a separate secondary structure to the main house. When a hurricane hits the veranda or porch may be destroyed but it doesn’t affect the main building structure and protects the primary roof of the dwelling.

Caribbean architecture today

Many of the historical architectural trends are still present and visible on the Caribbean islands today. However, a more modern shift in materials is evident as well as a refocus on sustainable building practises and materials. Materials such as such as stone, concrete and masonry are much more prevalent in Caribbean architecture today than they have been historically.

Where possible local and native materials are used. Such as native stone for retaining and interior walls. The landscape around modern architectural designs is typically created with natural drainage in mind. Other native materials to the islands such as mahogany and blue granite can be seen in modern architectural examples.

Sustainable building is an important part of Caribbean architecture today aimed to preserve the natural beauty of the islands. However, in order to achieve this sustainable architecture many materials – like architectural glass – do have to be imported from other countries such as Europe. Modern architecture in the Caribbean is all about combining the new and old ways of architecture into the modern world.

Caribbean architecture in the Bahamas 

The Bahamas is an archipelagic state of over 3000 islands and inlets within the Atlantic Ocean. The Bahama islands are located north of Cuba and northwest of Hispaniola. The oldest surviving architecture evident in the Bahamas is colonial architecture brought by the early British estate owners. The historical British architecture had to be adapted for the weather of the Bahamas. Houses were often angled to receive winds for ventilation and cooling with large windows and high ceilings. The outside of the buildings were often painted in light colours to reflect the sun and often featured more windows than would typically be seen in British architecture.

After the American Revolution many new settlers came to the island of the Bahamas from North and South Carolina and brought with them their own influences and architecture.

The Bahamian Clapboard house is a highly typical Bahamas architectural staple and was copied throughout the Tropic islands. These houses showcased large windows high ceilings and had flexibility to the structure which allowed them to be stable in high winds. This type of architectural design can still be seen in Harbour island or the Spanish Wells in the Bahamas.

The modern Bahaman villa today is often constructed using stone walls to brace for storms. To create a modern architectural design to these Caribbean houses multiple terraces are often included with large patio doors for ventilation and lots of natural light.

contemporary new build villa in Barbados
open corner sliding doors in a luxury Caribbean holiday resort

Caribbean architecture in Barbados

Barbados is a island in the eastern part of the Caribbean.

Similar to other Caribbean islands, its architectural history and style is strongly influenced by its history colonisation and European settlers. Large plantations in Barbados were built by British settlers and are often created in a Georgian or Jacobean architectural style.

Traditional plantation houses found on the Barbados were often long and narrow showcasing symmetry and classical architecture of the British rule. This traditional Georgian architecture eventually merged with the Caribbean lifestyle to form a new architectural design called Caribbean Georgian.

Traces of Jacobean, Palladino, Georgian and Victorian architecture can all be found throughout Barbados. Barbados offers different natural materials than other Caribbean islands such as limestone in the sea cliffs. This allowed more stone to be used in traditional architecture of Barbados which elevated its architectural practises against its Caribbean neighbours who worked mainly with wood. Many buildings on Barbados were also built with coral and ballast from ships that docked there.

Gable roofs and open verandas were still popular traits of Barbados architecture. Due to the highly British influence of architecture on Barbados, buildings in Barbados tend to be less flamboyant than other islands with stronger Spanish and French influences.

Modern luxury houses in Barbados take inspiration from these historical British era buildings to create light and bright spaces with excellent connections to the outside and traditional classic architecture. Today, the architectural trends in Barbados focus on casual beach villa aesthetics. Large windows frame the natural wonders of the island and connect houses to the outside. The sea, the sun and the green landscapes are designed to become part of the home through specified use of architectural glazing.

Avalon villa in Barbados was designed by Elements Architecture with architectural glazing from IQ. The building was a second home for native British family looking to create a calming retreat on the Caribbean Island. European architecture was a key influence in the design with a requirement to maximise the landscape and views offered to the plot in Barbados. This modern house design in Barbados was created. Large elevations of architectural glazing overlook the sea facing side of the building with high level windows and double height interior spaces which tie into the native architecture of Barbados.

glass walls around an indoor swimming pool in a luxury home
contemporary beachfront villa design with specialist frameless glazing

Caribbean architecture in Saint Lucia

St. Lucia is an island located within the east of the Caribbean Island community. The landscape on Saint Lucia is highly mountainous and hasn’t had much significant modern development until very recently.

Sugar Beach Hotel is an excellent example of modern development on the island. Sugar Beach – part of the Viceroy Hotel chain – is on the plot of a former sugar plantation. With architects Michaelis Boyd and architectural glazing from IQ, the spot has been transformed into a contemporary and intimate holiday resort in the Caribbean. The structures of the hotel were inspired by the local colonial architecture but designed with a contemporary twist. The white sandy beaches and panoramic ocean views were a key component of the architectural design which featured large elevations of architectural glazing and slim sliding doors from the team at IQ.

Due to its landscape and location St. Lucia experiences much fewer hurricanes than the surrounding Caribbean islands and therefore has more flexibility in its architectural design and materials.

Important architectural features were included in the Sugar Beach development such as wooden Louvre screens and shutters which keep interior spaces cool and protected from solar gain. These timber external structures also protect the large swathes of architectural glazing from storms and hurricanes.

Structures and buildings on Saint Lucia are designed to blend with the natural environment showcasing bright colours tropical materials and enhancing open air living.

The architecture of the Caribbean today

it’s plain to see that the architecture evident in the Caribbean today is a collection of modern influences and historical cultures. Modern requirements such as performance and sustainability play a key part in modern architecture in the Caribbean with a drive to connect interiors to the outside. The historical requirement to adapt Caribbean architecture to its natural climate is still in play today. High performance glazing systems like our hurricane resistant sliding glass door allows that connexion with nature whilst protecting buildings against the tropical storms from this region.

If you are looking to create your own project in the Caribbean and are looking for bespoke architectural glazing, contact the team at IQ Glass International who will be able to work with you to specify the correct glazing for the design and performance required.