‘Cayman Style’… What Does That Really Mean?

Section 9(1) of the Development & Planning Law (2017) Regulations (2018) states that “Applicants for permission to effect any development in a Residential zone shall ensure that the massing, scale, proportion and design of such development is consistent with the historic architectural traditions of the Islands.”

The first and obvious consequence of this Regulation is that is applies only to residential developments or more specifically, to any development envisaged for a Zone that has been declared a Residential. Other zones such as Commercial, Hotel /Tourism, Industrial etc do not have to comply with this requirement- just houses, apartment blocks, and (I suspect) other types of development allowed in a Residential Zone if s.9(3) of the Regulations is properly construed. So there is no duty of aesthetic moderation or confinement to a defined aesthetic required generally under the Development & Planning Law except for a development contemplated in a Residential Zone, whatever the development happens to be.

The second consequence of this Regulation is that is is actually extremely difficult to comply with, and that at the outset, the lack of any set of rules or a Style Guide as to what would constitute in any form, an adequate definition of what ‘the historic traditions of the Islands’ would constitute. To date, any attempt by the Central Planning Authority (CPA), on whose shoulders falls the difficult task of assessing the degree to which any development falling under the performance requirement of s.9(1) of the Regulations, so complies, or not. So difficult, in fact, that CPA simply dodges enforcing it on the basis that it is impossible to enforce, as it is such a subjective concept.

So what would constitute the historic architectural traditions of the Cayman Islands? Local architect John Doak believes he has derived what he calls Cayman Style, and which derivation he has been researching for over 40 years. Initially intending his work to be a source of vernacular responses to both cultural and micro-climatic conditions to serve architects seeking to conform to the regulation and CPA in enforcing the regulation, it has apparently expanded into a coffee-table tome of some considerable heft, and which he intends to be the definitive exposition of what now, according to him, is what Cayman Style should be interpreted as.

Will the publication in due course of this potential style guide to Cayman Style allow CPA to enforce s.9(3) of the Development & Planning Law Regulations? I think so, depending on how reliable Mr Doak’s book turns out to be, and to what effect it will have on the design of residential development in the Cayman Islands in the future. What is though already apparent is that the majority of new residential development done here over the past 10 or so years, would not be deemed by anyone, let alone an experienced arbiter of design styles, to be ‘consistent with the historic architectural traditions of the Islands’.

So, what is Cayman Style? Or more to the point, what is not Cayman Style? To misquote United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous dictum on knowing it when he sees it- I shall not attempt here to define the kinds of design cues and overall style I understand to be embraced within the definition of Cayman Style, and perhaps I (or CPA, for that matter) could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and any one of these examples of modern Caymanian residential design, is not that…


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