Trainees, teachers, facilitators, and key stakeholders gather outside the Synagogue, used as a base for classroom teaching.

The Commonwealth Heritage Skills Training Programme at Roebuck Street, Barbados, has been a huge success, drawing in over 40 young participants from across the UK, the US, and the Caribbean. The Training Programme was delivered in partnership with the Tulane School of Architecture, New Orleans, on behalf of the Roebuck Street Redevelopment Trust and ran over two weeks in January 2023. The CHF’s Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Heritage Skills Training Skills Programme made it possible for 6 UK-based participants to travel to Barbados and take part in the two-week training course. Along with some of the students from the US (Tulane University) and the Caribbean (University of the West Indies), each of the UK participants have documented their time spent on the Training Programme in videos and blog posts, included here.

Traineeship Outputs

The activities that the trainees all participated in will contribute toward a report which is being prepared by Professor Brent Fortenberry of Tulane University, for presentation to the Roebuck Street Redevelopment Trust in May 2023. The key activities carried out by the trainees fall into the following categories:

Sketching (sense of place, landscape, detail, façade).

Building Investigation (observation, laser scanning, archive).

Building Documentation (photographs, drawings, 3D images).

Condition Assessments (from observation, photos, and scanning).

Preservation Mapping (uploaded to mapping system).

Recommendations, Interpretation, and Adaptive Re-Use (showcased in trainee presentations and to contribute toward final report).

Roebuck Street in Context

Roebuck Street is within the UNESCO World Heritage Site and possibly derives its name from ‘The Roebuck Tavern’ c.1670, one of the first taverns established in Bridgetown. The area was the prime commercial hub of Bridgetown in the nineteenth-century, with many owners living above their shops. Over the years many of the buildings on the street have been neglected, meaning there is an urgent need for a sustainable plan for restoration and ongoing maintenance. The tasks completed by the trainees will contribute towards this plan, and the report will be delivered in May 2023.

Trainees learn how to use laser scanning technology to document buildings.
Trainees enjoy exploring some of the Island's beautiful walking trails.
Trainee undertaking laser scanning at Roebuck Street.
Classroom teaching with Prof. Brent Fortenberry, ahead of further practical work.
Trainees, teachers, facilitators, and key stakeholders gather outside the Synagogue, used as a base for classroom teaching.
Trainees deliver presentations on their findings from work on Building Investigation, Documentation, and Condition Mapping.
Trainees gather for site visit to the home of the first Prime Minister of Barbados, gaining useful insights into the wider historical context of Roebuck Street.
UK trainees and Sarah Neville (Consultant Project Development Coordinator) all gather outside the Synagogue. From left to right: Jabir, Ini, Tasha, Sarah, Michael, Sean, and Han.

Read and hear more about the experiences of the 6 UK-based participants

Sean Chan

The most enjoyable part of the mapping exercise was being able to have an immersive experience in both the data collection / surveying aspect, as well as the architectural understanding aspect of mapping. Collating data through photos and laser scans was not a passive task, but an active discussion that focussed on the condition of the buildings in Bridgetown, which made the experience very fruitful.

LiDAR and photogrammetry were the 2 main skills that we learned for the survey, and were incorporated in the mapping exercise in Bridgetown.

Through application of these skills in practice, it allowed us to understand further what risks and weaknesses the individual tools had, and how to ensure that the quality of the data collected is not compromised. This was a refreshing contrast to architectural education and training, where most of the time the discussion revolves around the conceptual narrative and idea, as opposed to the software and tools used to build the designs, which is often left to independent learning.

All trainees from the UK as well as students from Tulane University and UWI had varied backgrounds, in all aspects ranging from culture, upbringing, and career paths. This brought a lot of perspectives in discussing the architectural style and historic preservation methodology in Barbados, which was invaluable. It isn’t common in architectural education to intermingle with students of other disciplines, which meant in Barbados many points raised during discussions were from a fresh viewpoint.

While the LiDAR scans conducted at Barbados used an expensive highly advanced equipment, photogrammetry is much more accessible to us in our daily settings, whereby photos taken on daily use phones can also yield a good result. This will definitely come into play in an architectural setting – before starting a design on a site, we have learned it can be useful to take a good amount of time to build up a context. Similarly, while less precise than the LiDAR scanners provides, some top-market smartphones and tablets have LiDAR scanners built in with their cameras, which would be interesting to compare with the precision scans from Barbados.

Michael Clarke

The most enjoyable aspect of the Roebuck Street Research Studio was the opportunity to work and spend time with the students from Tulane University and UWI. As a group, we all got on so well and this made the work even more enjoyable. The experience was full of opportunities to learn and gain incredible experience that will help with my career in heritage, such as the building condition assessments and laser scanning.

Around this, we had some amazing times on the weekends and the evenings, from watching the sun set on the beach each night to visiting the botanical gardens and swimming with turtles on the weekends.

I learned so many new skills over the two weeks. Particularly new to me was the opportunity to laser scan Roebuck Street and use photogrammetry technology to create 3D models of the buildings that we were working on. This was an aspect of heritage work which I had not been exposed to but will certainly be useful in my future career as it becomes a more accessible and essential aspect of heritage preservation. I also became generally a lot more comfortable working with and analysing buildings. A lot of the surveying was similar work to what I have done previously, but the opportunity to put the skills to work for two weeks consistently has really increased my confidence when assessing buildings. The condition surveys that we completed in the second week also enabled me to develop skills in identifying risks and dangers on buildings.

I benefited significantly from being surrounded by architectural students who I could pick the brains of as we surveyed the buildings around Bridgetown. We all got on so well as a group that I felt comfortable asking for help and other perspectives when working.

I feel that I really benefitted from being surrounded by people who are studying architecture as I lacked confidence in consistently identifying features and styles coming into the programme. I feel that I contributed an alternative perspective through the Historic England conservation methods and principles which I work with day to day. My role specifically deals with listed buildings in England, and I feel that my experience in assessing the merits of historic buildings came from a slightly different perspective to the rest of the group.

The process of studying buildings in Bridgetown has greatly enhanced my understanding of architecture and comfort in using architectural terminology. This will be incredibly useful in my job in the Listing team at Historic England, greatly increasing my confidence when assessing and describing buildings. Particularly useful will be my ability to identify materials, roofs, doors and windows, which was enhanced by the process of assessing Bridgetown’s built environment over the two weeks. I also expect that the experience gained working with the laser scanner and photogrammetry technology will be a really useful experience in the future if I am to have a career in heritage, as the technology is already becoming much more accessible and an essential aspect of heritage and conservation work.

Ini Debisi-Ajayi

I really enjoyed speaking to members of the community about the work we were doing. It was so interesting to talk to locals and discuss the importance of the area, their thoughts about heritage and conservation work, their own personal experiences of the area, and individual and collective memories of Bridgetown, both historic and modern. These conversations helped to demonstrate the importance of the work we were doing and the impact that the conservation work will have.

The opportunity to use photogrammetry programs and LiDAR technology was so valuable. This was my first time working with these softwares and it was so insightful to see how this technology can be used within architectural conservation.

I have also learnt to be more observant and attentive when viewing and analysing architecture, particularly when identifying agents of decay within heritage architecture; many small details are easy to miss if one does not examine a building carefully and thoroughly.

I appreciated working with students from so many different educational backgrounds – historic preservation, architecture, museum design, sustainable design etc. It was very interesting to see how different people approached the same task, some were creative and unconventional, while others were pragmatic and efficient. It was helpful to look at the project from different perspectives and this has expanded and diversified my outlook on architectural conservation and management.

Having experienced so many different approaches to conservation work I have learnt to view tasks and projects in a more universal manner, in order to find creative solutions. Additionally, the photogrammetry and LiDAR skills I have gained are invaluable and will be of tremendous use in the future. I have also learnt about the importance of community engagement and the value of local support when embarking on an architectural project.

Jabir Mohamed

In the study of architecture there is an overwhelming emphasis on design and building and not on how that building should be maintained, or how to preserve the heritage we already have. I went into architecture to do both. My goal was to always go back to my home country and help rebuild and preserve our heritage lost to war and neglect and that’s why I’m grateful for this opportunity from the Commonwealth Heritage Forum.

This traineeship has taught me how to read buildings from the lens of a conservationist. To see how the building may have been altered and where it is deteriorating from. What materials it is made of and what that says about the building or its upkeep. This new framework of understanding buildings is now a new skill I possess and hope to build on.

While I must say I was most excited to use the LiDAR laser scanning machine as it is something new to me and just an amazing piece of machinery, I would say the photogrammetry we did was so important to me. The fact that you can create highly detailed 3D models from just pictures imported into a free software makes this such an important tool for me moving forward. It is accessible to anyone and does a great job at capturing structures.

Learning from people at the forefront of this practice, meeting and working with local historians, debating with locals on their opinions on conservation have all been a pleasure and emboldened me to pursue heritage conservation in Somalia.

Natasha Mohindra

I think what I enjoyed the most about the whole experience was the opportunities provided to explore the different historical locations within Barbados, guided by various experts within the heritage sector. For me, this insight into the different discourses surrounding local-level and academic attitudes towards heritage and preservation further facilitated the desire to carry out the research studio work; as it reinforced the extreme value of our work.

The representatives from Barbados National Trust, The Archives, The National Museum, UWI, and the residents we encountered each had an incredible depth of knowledge and were open and frank in their discussions which made it easy to ask focused questions and gain a real sense of the local context.

I have learnt so much from this experience! I’ve strengthened my ability to recognise significant architectural features, as well as assess the condition of these. I’ve also been exposed to a wealth of new technologies and software such as LiDAR scanning. Most importantly, I’ve definitely strengthened my ability to disseminate research and findings to a body of people.

I feel like I have developed so much just from conversations with people. Working with students from Tulane and UWI was also a great insight in contextualising heritage for different nations. I will most certainly be using my experiences to aid my career development. From refreshing skills in presenting to gaining a new understanding of architecture and preservation in action – as well as learning to use new technologies, there is a multitude of options for me to explore. I’m still in the very early stages of a career in historic environment sustainability, and the traineeship has enlightened me to all the possible routes available within my organisation.

Hannah Stephens

Throughout my time at the Roebuck Street Research Studio it was an honour to be exposed to the latest technology, redesigning the methodology of how we can record and map the historic built environment. In mapping the streets and buildings, we were shown that what has previously taken days, took a matter of minutes, producing scans with 2mm precise measurements. To practically see how modern technology is being applied to buildings dating to the 17th Century, through non-invasive techniques, demonstrates how exciting advances to heritage conservation will become in the future. Imperatively, how our research was received by local residents was paramount in understanding just how vital it will be in continuing to preserve Bridgetown and its history.

I will primarily be taking away from the experience a vast, greater social understanding of how heritage conservation is applied across an international context. Whilst we continue to preserve structures for future generations, I personally feel that it is vital to avoid cultural homogenisation, ensuring as a practitioner I understand what the heritage built environment really means to individuals and their ancestry, extending beyond the ICOMOS Guidelines. My practical skills have been hugely developed and my ability to work on site, gaining a greater understanding of how my academic studies can be applied.

Having a mix of young working professionals and academics enabled productive discussion. Through working together with both the UK students and those from Tulane and UWI, I have been able to apply these different approaches to my academic work already. Having a background predominantly in rural surveying I was originally nervous, feeling new to architecture and the built environment. However, my knowledge on crop rotations and soil types, to mapping and understanding the principles of rural development, were just as important in understanding the complexities of Bajan history, whilst applying other skill sets to the studio.

Since my return from Barbados, I have already started to use photogrammetry within my academic reports and submissions for modules focusing upon materials and their condition within a heritage building. Whilst the climate and a whole manner of factors in the UK are different from in the Caribbean, much of the same physical issues remain the same. Subsequently, practically working on site has been vital in applying this knowledge to paper, expanding where I wish to develop my career within the heritage built environment and the opportunities for developing research within my MSc Sustainable Building Conservation dissertation.

Read more about the experiences of students from the Tulane School of Architecture

Amanda Bentz

My favorite part of the trip was walking around Bridgetown and seeing the different architecture. We did a right of way survey during the first week, and I really enjoyed doing this. It allowed me to really get to know the architecture better, and see some features that I likely would not have noticed otherwise.

I learned several important skills throughout the trip. I spent time doing both photogrammetry and laser scanning. These are skills that are both very important, but the machinery is more expensive, so these are skills that are harder to gain experience in. Furthermore, it was a great opportunity to learn these skills outside of a class environment on a busy street, where we had to consider locals and tourists walking around the area as we were working.

During the first week, we had a few lectures on the history of Barbados from people that live and work in Barbados. This, coupled with the chance to walk around the area, and see in person some of the things they were talking about, was a great experience, and really allowed us to delve into and better grasp the history and culture of Barbados. I learned a lot and was able to see and hear many different perspectives from working with the other trainees. Several of us had different backgrounds, so we were able to share our different experiences with each other.

We are continuing to work on an interpretation and conservation plan for Bridgetown during our studio class this semester. This will allow me to practice some of the skills I learned, and continue to grow my knowledge and documentation skills. These skills will also translate into our studies and jobs. I will have more experience with not only documentation, but translating this documentation into a plan for the future.

Bélinda Chau

I enjoyed meeting people from different professional backgrounds, and hearing everyone’s perspectives on the world of historic preservation. Along with having the privilege to work with students from Barbados and having local guests talk about how they view the challenge and opportunities in Barbados and the larger context of the Caribbean.

I have learned to assess buildings in terms of building materials, their conditions, what are the agents of decay, what materials might be better suited to fix those issues, etc. I have also learned how to laser scan buildings and how we might use the data collected for future analysis.

I think my background in architecture and preservation (doing a Certificate in Preservation Studies along with my Master of Architecture) helped other students who don’t have that background, to identify architectural elements and features seen in buildings in historic Bridgetown. Being surrounded by a diverse group of trainees, gave me the sense that we all cared in some way about the same issues that bridge all fields concerned with our built environment. Which is how do we preserve the buildings we already have and how can it contribute the present community for the better?

I will apply the skills I learned for assessing building conditions, to everyday buildings I encounter and ask myself what is failing and how can we remediate that. And most importantly, to learn from our environment because if we understand the climate of a region, we can all live in better harmony instead of going against it and thus, shorten the lives of buildings.  Having similar climates, hot and humid, I am looking forward to apply some architectural features seen in Barbados to New Orleans (like the “cooling box” seen on the Parliament and shutter window system).

Anthony Mendez

Witnessing the mesh of different architecture typologies created to form what is now authentic to the island of Barbados was my favorite aspect of our trip to Barbados. Photos, videos, and vlogs are not adequate substitutes to actually going to these locations and observing some fascinating landmarks.

I’ve learned how to better identify elements of Caribbean vernacular architecture such as cooler boxes and jalousies and compare and contrast them to the elements that are indicative of architecture in New Orleans. I also learned to better identify conditions of material finishes within stucco and limewash and how faulty HVAC and drainage systems can contribute to these deteriorations.

Everyone within the program has different skill sets. My background in architecture helped in the contribution of identifying architectural elements and assisting others in seeing buildings better through sketching. Other students’ backgrounds in history and museum studies helped me better understand the historical context behind the architectural elements to gain a holistic image of historic architecture in Barbados.

I hope to use my new knowledge of identifying conditions and their causes to when I observe more historic buildings in New Orleans and beyond. I also hope I can showcase our studio’s reports on architectural conservation of the Roebuck Street area to my future employers.

Trainees on site at Roebuck Street.

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