Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Grand not-quite-Palladian Jamaica Resort & Spa

An article appeared in the March 25, 2011 Observer.  It read: 
SPANISH hotel chain Fiesta has announced plans to carry on with its multibillion-dollar expansion of the Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort and Spa in Point, Hanover by a further 900 rooms with an aim to add an additional 2,000 rooms in the near future.

Billed as being located in Montego Bay, Jamaica (check the travel websites), this facility is actually located in Point, Hanover, which is 60km west of Montego Bay. 

Fiesta calls it the “Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa”, but what is a “Palladium”, let alone a Grand one?  The word “Palladium” does not appear in Oxford’s Dictionary of Architecture, nor any other architecture dictionary to which I am familiar because a Palladium is not an architectural term or reference.  Per the Oxford English Dictionary:

Palladium – a statue of Pallas whose preservation was believed to ensure the safety of Troy; a safeguard.

The word derives from the Greek Goddess Pallas Athena/Athena Parthenos, whose cult statue was housed in the Parthenon: that famous 2,450 year-old Greek temple atop the Acropolis.  Those of us in the field of architecture will immediately recognise the oft used misnomer.  The word the developers meant to use was PalladiAN.  From the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture:

Palladian – of or relating to a revived classical style (circa 16 century) in architecture based on the works of that famous Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio; the overarching theme of which is that there is a correct way to design

Briefly, Renaissance architecture is characterised by an emphasis on symmetry and proportion, harmony, the regularity of parts, a reference to ancient Roman architecture, an orderly arrangement of building members such as columns, lintels, pilasters, etc, and the use of semicircular arches and hemispheric domes.  Palladio’s influence on Renaissance architecture was so profound and transcendent, his I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, The Four Books of Architecture, which contain systematic rules and plans for building, is and has been in continuous publication since 1570.

Misnomer notwithstanding, this building reflects nothing of the works of Palladio, nor of Renaissance architecture and ideals.  In fact, its departure from the formal language of Classicism and Renaissance architecture is significant.  A subversion almost.  Parodic. 

The Façade
There are two types of facades to the facility: the main entrance façade and the facades to the suite clusters.  I will address the latter as they are seen more often on the premise.  When approached head-on, the secondary façade gives us the sense of entering a building with corresponding mass.  The perpendicular approach, however, reveals the façade as nothing more than a prop: a tilt-up storefront akin to those seen on the set of a Hollywood Western.


Quoins:  large, square or rectangular stones used to dress and strengthen the corners of buildings, are a typical Renaissance feature.  They strengthen corners by ‘weaving’ together in order to bind two walls, ie, two intersecting planes, together.  Quoins stacked one atop the other in the fashion indicated here do not read as structural.  In this connection, the stacking implies the corner is not supported and this  portends structural failure.  Further, as aforementioned, quoins appear at the corners of buildings; not on the face of a wall or elevation as shown on either side of the entryway (see picture below).

Portico/ Pediments/Tympanum

1.       Why were the columns in the portico: the porch area in front that supports a roof, not raised so that the 'band' below the roof, ie the entablature, would line up with the coursing that demarcates the second storey?  We’re talking a difference of about 6”.   This is just sloppy.  Analogy: how many of us have worn clothing that was cut so the pattern(s) in the cloth match and align?  The flower on a pocket that matches up perfectly with the flowers on the fabric it’s sewn to.  The 100’ angle made by matching the stripes from the lapel to the stripes on the collar as both pieces are sewn together.  This conveys the notion of continuity and makes a garment appear seamless.  This approach to transitions (of which Palladio was a master) is also done in architecture, but apparently not in this instance.  

There are no return columns or pilasters (flat, engaged columns) at the back of the portico (ie, where the roof meets the façade) looking as though the roof is only supported at the front, which means the back of the roof is about to collapse.  Yes, we know that there is a supporting I- beam in there, however, steel was not used as a supporting element in Classical architecture, hence, we shouldn’t have to cognitively rely on it to interpret a building done in the Classical typology.  Note also that the roof slams into a string of quoins on the face.  That's one crazy juncture right there.
2.       The pediment is any one of the triangles you see at the front (see facade picture above).  There is one at the front of the portico roof, one above it (referred to as a broken pediment, for obvious reasons) and two small ones on either side of the doorway.  Though there is precedent for the double pediment (see the Pantheon in Rome) I’m not sure what purpose the broken pediment in this case serves.   If it is decorative, then a poor job was done.  It seems more an afterthought: something made up to finish the façade.  The pitch is way too flat to be convincing and the purpose of the circular cut-out is a mystery.  I can reference no precedent for it.

3.       The tympanum (recessed centre of a pediment) is treated one of two ways in Renaissance architecture: left plain, or highly decorated with relief sculptures.  Here we get one tiny, lionhead appliqué.  Stingy.

Appliqué – a cutout decoration fastened to larger piece of material.

Doors/Windows/ Niches

Renaissance doors are typically square but set within an arch or surmounted by a pediment. Openings without doors are typically arched, with a keystone (see spa area picture below for how not to do these openings).  Additionally, door surrounds are rusticated (stone cut so that the joints are sunk, the face is roughened and projects beyond the façade).   Note the doorway in the façade.  Quoins present throughout the entirety of the two-storey archway.  Let’s give Fiesta one tick for an attempt to convey a rusticated door surround.  However, the arch itself is grossly incorrect.  There is no keystone in the centre (the crown) of this arch.  In fact, the centre of this arch is the grout line between two stones!   The keystone is called such for a reason.  Located at the centre it actually ‘locks’ an arch in place so is thereby structural.  Removal of or the absence of the keystone (cognitively, as this building is concrete and not masonry) results in the collapse of an arch. 

Made me queasy, walking under such a structure.

Similar rules apply for windows and niches, excepting the rusticated surround.   There are no windows  in this façade but we see two niches on either side of the ‘failed’ archway, which needed to be rendered more convincingly to not read as more appliqué. 

The Spa

A bit more effort was spared in executing the double columns of the pergola in the pool area by the spa by giving them capitals and somewhat of a base.  Columns are load bearing members, proportionally sized to bear a corresponding load.  These double columns are obscenely oversized to bear the load of such modest wooden beams.  Either the beams need to be larger and the columns smaller, or vice versa.   Incidentally, the beams are oriented east-west, which defeats the purpose of it being a shading device.

A frieze is the horizontal central band below the cornice and above the architrave (see picture), all three of which comprise the entablature.  In Renaissance/Palladian architecture, the frieze is treated according to the order (column type) used.  Because of the lack of ornamentation on the vast majority of this building’s columns, I generously assume the designer is using the Tuscan order.   If so, then the frieze is to be left flat and unornamented.  Other orders dictate the use of a flat frieze: the Ionic, Corinthian and Composite, but none of the columns we see here resemble such, so I’m going with the Tuscan order. 

In some instances we see no ornamented frieze and in others we get the one repeated appliqué.  Friezes, when decorated, typically tell a story in pictures.  Here we get the same image over and over and over: a reclining maiden in bas-relief.  No story here; just a one liner.  The spa building shows the appliquéd maiden alternating with some very obvious downspouts.  I trust I don’t need to say that one would never see a downspout punching through a frieze on any Classical building.  All buildings need a way to channel water away from them.  This is typically done discreetly and well incorporated in the design.  (Eg, gargoyles are actually waterspouts that channel rainwater away from their buildings.)  The repeated use of the reclining appliqué seems like an afterthought.  It is a very cheap, unattractive move and I wonder why even do it at all?

The Dome

Gleefully abandoning all Renaissance and Palladian tenets of symmetry, proportion and beauty, Fiesta's contractors set to thrice render colossal bastardisations of Brunelleschi’s beautiful, ingenious, watershed moment of a dome that crowns the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Italy.  The results in Point, Hanover beggar belief.  Two proudly sit on either end of the main building and one atop the spa building.  Looking as though they were moulded from hulled potatoes, there is nothing ‘domey’ about these wonky domes. There is nothing symmetrical about them and they are only loosely hemispheric: the untrained eye can clearly see that they descend beyond any hypothetical equatorial line.  They are poorly rendered, with over-subscribed ribs that indicate a clear misunderstanding of the Master’s brilliant use and invention of the originals (designed to resist lateral thrust in the absence of buttresses), and tiny, unaligned, understructured - thus unconvincing - members transition the domes’ circumferences to the square of the roofs.

Other instances continue to shock and dismay as one progresses through the property, including:  the ceilings under the outdoor walkways are mouldy, indicating improper installation of the asphalt tiles (I’m guessing that if I peeled back a tile I’d find no waterproofing membrane nor felt between tile and roof sheathing), and downspouts that empty into the colossal pool.  I wouldn’t assume that the runoff water from the roof is filtred, strained or treated in any way.

The rooms and gathering areas are executed tolerably well, which only underscores the dissonance between interior and exterior.  The former tries hard to compensate for the latter.  It succeeds as much as a double-wide mobile home with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances does.

This facility is pitiful all round and KITSCH punctuates every aspect of one’s experience of it, from its architecture to its amenities.  Kitsch: that all-encompassing German word that aptly describes a vicarious experience of faked sensations.  Guests line up at all-inclusive feeding troughs for tinned ackee (horror of horrors).  One has to search far and wide to get a cup of decent coffee AND the milk to go with it as powdered creamer is all that is in the offing in this swanky establishment.  (I resorted to getting my coffee from the gift store sample cart.  And by coffee I mean the Jablum stuff in the crocus bag; marginally palatable under normal circumstances, but a welcome reprieve in this setting.  So I had to drink four sample cups for a full serving…at least they had liquid milk.)

The landscaping comprises a few banana trees, a few Royal Palms, a couple nondescript shrubs, one variety of croton and one variety of Joseph’s Coat.  And for all the sand stealing that made international headlines and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, there is no beach to speak of here.  The beach is mucky, murky, seaweedy and gross (see aerial photo).  Hence the colossal pool.  Even the diving here is kitschy.  Forty-five minutes under water peering through muck at a denuded reef, one tired sea cucumber, a couple chromis and too many lionfish.

Per the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture:

           Kitsch - Rubbish or trash.  The term suggests works in any of the arts that is pretentious, shoddy, tawdry, inferior, and in bad taste, aping styles without understanding them, and vulgarizing them beyond redemption… the cultural revenge of the lower classes….

Ahhh.  There we have it.

Jamaica is not starved for incredible examples of fine buildings, Classical and vernacular.  Any of our parish churches (Georgian and Gothic revival styles), our courthouses (often rendered in the Neoclassical), and Greathouses (Neoclassical and vernacular, ie, Jamaican Georgian) will attest to this.  So too will many of our hotels (Half Moon – Palladian, Round Hill and Strawberry Hill – Jamaican Georgian, deMontevin Lodge – Jamaican Victorian).  Yet how often nowadays do we see the preponderance of kitschy buildings being passed off as progress?  When did this reductive way of being enter our collective psyche?  Why is kitsch becoming a dominant facet of our culture?  What does it say about us and our opinion of ourselves as an intellectual society?  What does it say of what the Spanish (Fiesta and otherwise) think of us as an intellectual society?  From the march 25 Observer article:
Yesterday, Spanish ambassador to Jamaica Celsa Nuno said the development was "an indication of very positive economic recovery and more than anything an indication of the confidence of the Spanish investors in the future of Jamaica".

Hands up those of us who believe that Fiesta could or would erect this joke of a resort in, say, Cinque Terre.  Côte d’Azur.  Heck, Varadero, even.  It would never happen.  No, non, y ¡difinitivamente no!  Yet we Jamaicans lap up this aberration for the jobs it will supposedly create (mostly menial) and the tourist dollars it will bring:
The tourism minister said this phase of the development will cost US$280 million while the next phase will include "interesting and novel attractions which will be a key part of what is going to drive the higher spend". Bartlett said more than a thousand workers will find employment in the first phase and over 3,000 ultimately.
According to Bartlett, the recent opening of the largest port in the Caribbean in Falmouth, Trelawny, which has already had its first call from the world's largest cruise ship, was indicative of the necessity for more rooms.

Can someone please tell Minister Bartlett that Point, Hanover is all of 100km away from Falmouth, Trelawny?

Kitsch is dangerous.  People pay to see the faked article.  Our smarmy leaders know this and also know they only have to pander to the lowest common denominator.  Impress this ever increasing segment of the population with whatever trinket is being offered and parliamentary votes remain secure.

Kitsch is vulgar and invasive.  Look at Sandals Whitehouse, the latest addition to the Sandals family, and compare it to its siblings.  It alarms me that even the mighty “Butch” Stewart has fallen prey.   There is much talk about the loss and degradation of Jamaican culture in the news, but the best our intelligentsia can do to address this is insist on patois being taught in schools, insist that the bible be printed in patois and defend Vybz Kartel's stint as UWI guest lecturer.  

Language is not the only embodiment of culture.  Architecture also serves a similar purpose.   Why allow such vapid eyesores to front as monumental and experiential representations of Jamaica?  For that is what these structures do and they do it to our cultural detriment.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said that the future plans for another 2,000 rooms would "make that facility the largest mega tourism entity in the Caribbean today".

He says it like it’s a good thing.

I advise those with sand to be stolen to keep watch.


One thing that’s glaringly absent from Fiesta’s attempt at Palladian architecture is the ubiquitous Palladian motif:  a semicircular arched light (opening) flanked on either side by lower rectangular lights (openings).  My guess is that this was excluded only because a) it costs more (labour, materials) to do an arcuated opening, b) Fiesta’s designers probably have no idea what it is anyway, or a quite probable c) said designers assumed Jamaicans have no idea what a Palladian motif is, and can't tell the difference between it and a patty flanked by a coco bread.

Drawing by Palladio from his Four Books...

- Torsdag


  1. Hey, you have given nice information. It is really nice resort. It has been full facilities..

    Swim With Dolphins

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Excellent review. Thanks. I haven't been on the property myself but imagine that many of our new hoteliers assume guests will be drunk most of the time, gorging on unsavory food and clueless about quality workmanship to notice anyway.