What attracted you to architecture?
RS A keen sketcher but competent mathematician as a child, I would also spend hours playing with Lego, generally rejecting the instructions in favour of contraptions and buildings of my own design. This was the first clue for a choice of career, which married my artistic side with my analytical side. Ultimately however, ‘Architect’ came up first on an early edition of career picking software whilst still in my mid teens. Second on the list was officer in the marines, third, officer in the navy! As a card-carrying pacifist, architect simply seemed a little less confrontational!
Who was your first mentor and how did he/she influence you?
RS In life no-one has been more influential than my father. Brought up from a very young age with an open door to an outside world of intrigue and adventure, he firmly but calmly encouraged and taught me to explore and face the challenges of the environment around me with a calculated and disciplined assessment of the dangers that existed so that I might safely challenge the instinctive boundary of fear. In doing so, he set me up for a life and career where I could open my own mind, and help my clients to open theirs, to solutions that otherwise they would never have considered.
Specifically from an architectural standpoint, I was massively influenced by a tutor of mine, Mr. Tony Hunt, the structural engineer for Waterloo Station in London. Certain that Mr. Hunt was going to ridicule what was (in retrospect) a ridiculous design of mine, I was amazed when he took my own problems as a direct challenge for himself, stating that an engineer’s greatest failure is to tell an architect that ‘it is not possible’. This open and positive attitude to tackling problems has stuck with me throughout my career.
How would you describe your design sense/style?
RS I am by heart a vernacular modernist with a respect for tradition, appropriate use of materials and a keen desire to encourage every design to react positively and sensitively to its local environment and climatic conditions. That said, style should not be self-indulgent but client-sensitive. I believe my best work to be, that which pleases my client more than myself.
What is your favourite building in the Caribbean?
RS My love of Caribbean architecture is founded not in a single building but in the collage of simple forms and bold colours that produce façades, streets and spaces of intrigue and historical reference. Any number of the houses of Salt Cay, the inns of Duke Street in Grand Turk, the naval buildings of English Harbour in Antigua or the mill houses and sheds of St Kitts and Nevis may be listed in my favourites, however, it is the collective energy of the built fabric in each of these places and the story they tell that inspires me the most.
What is interesting about being an architect in the Turks and Caicos Islands and, if you were not here, where in the world would you be?
RS Contrary to popular belief in the architectural studios of London and New York, being an architect in the Caribbean does not mean constantly sipping rum punches whilst you draw designs on your place mat (although it has been known to happen!). Working on small islands such as Turks and Caicos means being prepared to involve yourself in all aspects of the design and building process where materials are scarce and tasks that can be relatively simple on the mainland can become complex and frustrating 600 miles offshore. Getting the required professional results despite these added challenges means that a greater level of attention and information is required, often including teaching via hands-on application and example. It is this pioneering spirit that most attracts me to the Turks and Caicos. Of course if I were not in the Turks and Caicos, I would find somewhere else equally warm, windy and with a disproportionally long coastline per square mile, so those factors might play a small part too.
If you could work with any other designer (living or dead) in the world who would it be and why?
RS Working with a dead one would bring a whole new level of challenges that I would prefer to avoid! Joking aside, I prefer to work with anyone who can handle working with me and who inspires me to regularly question my own design philosophy.
A friend once introduced me to Nigel Irons who has designed many of the fastest racing yachts in the world. His humble approach to his life and his work, which requires the most intimate attention to detail and technical skill, was inspirational.
Where are you from? What attracted you to the Turks and Caicos Islands?
RS Born in the South East of England, I was brought up on the southern slopes of Dartmoor in Devon. As a child exploring these hills and sailing the rugged Devon and Cornwall coastline, I was fascinated by the stories of sailors that left the shores of South West England in search of adventure in the New World, dreaming one day of following in their footsteps. At 17, I left home for Venezuela to crew a yacht through the Caribbean and Mediterranean for two years interspersed with visits to university. Frustrated with short stops in beautiful tropical bays and rarely getting a chance to explore islands properly, I vowed that I would return to live as a resident of one of these wonderful islands. Sometime later during my phone interview with Mr. Wood, conversation quickly turned to his stories of sailing the amazing waters of Grace Bay and family trips to the deserted beaches of the Caicos Cays...other offers quickly found the garbage!
If you had a dinner party, name four people (living or dead) who you would like to entertain?
RS I am constantly inspired by anyone who, despite tremendous personal adversity, is strong and yet humble enough to challenge their demons and positively influence those around them. Dinner guests would therefore be Mr. Nelson Mandela; my wife’s uncle, Sir Frank Lampl; President Obama and, most importantly, my wife whose strength amazes me every day.
What is your most treasured possession?
RS It’s a tossup between my memory and my imagination.
How do you spend your spare time?
RS Recently work has caused me to spend a lot of time away from my family, so all my spare time is spent with my wife and baby girl learning the throws of fatherhood and simply enjoying watching her grow. To completely unwind, I turn to my passion of sailing for which the waters of TCI are ideal, especially when followed by a quiet evening of wine and dominos at ‘da conch shack’.
What is your favourite vacation spot?
RS My wife recently introduced me to the Angra Dos Reis region of the stunning ‘Green Coast’ of Brazil. The scenery is breathtaking and the hundreds of islands with their tiny hidden bars serving fabulous local food make for perfect family days of exploration and relaxation on and by the water.
Which talent would you most like to have?
RS I would love to have a natural ability to learn languages. Typically British, I have become far too comfortable with allowing others to attempt my language rather than learning theirs. As a result, I believe I miss out on much of the richness of the varied cultures that we live among.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
RS Spending lazy hours in bed with my wife on a Sunday morning whilst our baby girl plays and chatters between us.
What is your motto?
RS A talented chef friend of mine once told me that great meals could only be achieved through a chef selecting fresh ingredients and simply not ruining them. It is a philosophy all designers should live by as we try to reduce our impact on this world and especially places such as Turks and Caicos Islands where the ingredients are so pure and easily spoilt.
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