Alyssa-Amor Gibbons, Studio Amor: Standing up to hurricanes

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Alyssa-Amor Gibbons, Studio Amor: Standing up to hurricanes
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Alyssa-Amor Gibbons, Studio Amor: Standing up to hurricanes

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Alyssa-Amor Gibbons, Studio Amor: Standing up to hurricanes
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Extreme weather is often a matter of life and death. How do we design for the growing frequency and ferocity of storms? Do we resist at all costs or should we build structures that give in a little to save the whole?

This episode introduces Alyssa-Amor Gibbons, a young talented architect from Barbados. Growing up with the crippling effects of hurricane seasons, Alyssa-Amor was propelled to pursue a career in design. She now runs her own boutique practice, Studio Amor, which is renowned for its micro-solutions for storm-resilient buildings.

Her work, tailored for survival, draws inspiration from vernacular architecture, new modelling tools, and real-world observations. She selects materials and details with performance in mind and blends them with a sense of local identity.

Episode outline

00:07:41 Living with risk
00:09:38 “You don’t know how to prepare. You don’t know how to guarantee yourself against Mother Nature. It’s just this big waiting game and just hoping for the best.”
00:15:26 “I think, in the course of all the discussions that we have around the climate crisis, everyone acknowledges, ‘Yes, this is a more active hurricane season. Yes, you can expect more severe weather systems later down into the year’.”
00:20:00 “That is really what shaped my passion for architecture: knowing the needs that we have… and wanting to close that gap between the bare necessities and getting to a point where we are thriving and not just trying to survive.”
00:20:16 Principles and solutions
00:21:40 “You can’t build a fortress against these events. So you have to find ways to work with it, allow the wind to come through the building… And that distinct typology was birthed from that necessity.”
00:24:28 “How do you start to dissipate some of that wind force? You can do that by playing with the facade… so that, instead of the wind just hammering against the building, it starts to break it up.”
00:42:08 Education
00:52:50 “I found there was this big disconnect between what you think architecture is – this kind of precious, almost kind of self-serving journey from nothing to something – versus being on-site [where] somebody has to pay money to get this done…”
00:53:18 Becoming Alyssa-Amor
00:57:50 “I am obsessed with this idea of building the most amazing infrastructure here, from here, using local expertise, local talent, local knowledge. That’s where my heart is at.”

Summary

Alyssa-Amor Gibbons remembers the devastating impact hurricanes have had on her home island and the significant loss of both human lives and livelihoods suffered over time. She shares the fear and unpredictability of finding oneself in the midst of such fury, but also emphasises the importance of taking small yet effective actions to mitigate the risks.

She talks about how some structures fare better than others. She reveals how risk and the probability of collapse are shaped by topography, architectural form and envelope details. From this empirical knowledge, Alyssa-Amor has developed a unique design outlook that borrows many assets of the local vernacular architecture.

Her interpretation of jalousie windows, for instance, is inspired by traditional Chattel houses. These tropical devices effectively regulate the entry of light and air throughout the day. During storm events, their horizontal slats disperse wind pressure and provide protection against wind-driven debris, making them a better choice than flat, glass-pane windows.

The deployment of timber fins dissipates wind pressure on a building’s facade.
© Derek Galon

Fretwork patterns and vertical fins are two other features she depends upon to disperse wind and reduce perpendicular air pressure on the building’s facade.

Alyssa-Amor recounts how her mother’s wisdom imparted the concept of “sacrificial” space she now employs in the homes she creates. That building gap allows wind to pass through, lessening the pressure on the entire structure. It is strategically located alongside secure, waterproof shelters, where residents can seek refuge during a storm.

A sacrificial central core (red highlight) allows the wind to pass through the interiors while preserving the adjacent spaces.
© Derek Galon

She also takes advantage of stilted timber structures with cross-braced lattice elements to allow them to bend a little and avoid collapse.

Having stilted structures with cross-braced lattice elements makes it more likely that the building will survive a seismic event.
© Alyssa-Amor Gibbons

A common exercise of her design phase is to create a digital twin, which is used to test ideas against the effects of wind and sun. With this computer-simulated model, she can tweak and optimise solutions without incurring financial costs or risking human lives.

Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, is being studied to make it an eco-resilient settlement.
© Giggel CC BY 3.0

Studio Amor is currently involved in a program aimed at transforming Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, into a climate-resilient eco-city. She focuses on the city centre while attempting to scale up ideas like the sacrificial spaces.

At its core, Alyssa-Amor’s architecture is about the fundamental human right to safety and shelter. She deploys cross-disciplinary knowledge, relies on local wisdom and materials, and leverages new tools. Her goal is to develop context-appropriate solutions that, ultimately, will save lives.

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:03:24 “…Barbados is literally pushed along the tectonic plates…”
Plate Tectonics” | National Geographic/Education
00:05:01 “…but I’ve been moving into more of civic spaces — so urban regeneration, adaptive reuse…”
Urban Regeneration” | UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme)
00:05:01 “…but I’ve been moving into more of civic spaces — so urban regeneration, adaptive reuse…”
Adaptive reuse” | Wikipedia
00:13:29 “…our last kind of major event would’ve been Hurricane Janet…”
Hurricane Janet” | Wikipedia
00:20:37 “…by force, by circumstance — quite frankly, from slavery…”
The Legacy of Slavery in the Caribbean and the Journey Towards Justice” | United Nations/UN Chronicle
00:20:52 “…people reaching out after the Ted video about colonialism…”
Colonialism” | Wikipedia
00:26:49 “…I went to Dominica after Hurricane Maria…”
Hurricane Maria” | Wikipedia
00:36:09 “…I’ve been working with an entity called FutureBARBADOS…”
FutureBARBADOS
00:02:52 “…Barbados is, in my humble opinion, a beautiful place…”
Barbados” | Britannica
00:05:11 “…in the urban core of the capital city of Bridgetown…”
Bridgetown” (Barbados) | Britannica
00:16:14 “…as you go towards Trinidad, Guyana and the Caribbean [Islands]…”
Trinidad and Tobago” | Britannica
00:16:14 “…as you go towards Trinidad, Guyana and the Caribbean [Islands]…”
Guyana” | Britannica
00:16:14 “…as you go towards Trinidad, Guyana and the Caribbean [Islands]…”
West Indies” | Britannica
00:17:52 “…the ones that most people have never heard of — Kiribati…”
Kiribati” | Britannica
00:26:49 “…I went to Dominica after Hurricane Maria…”
Dominica” | Britannica
00:29:06 “…You see it especially in Haiti…”
Haiti” | Britannica
00:22:14 “…if we introduce these slatted openings…”
5 Reasons For Slatted Timber Screens On Tropical Modern Homes” | Architropics
00:23:32 “…you would’ve had jalousie windows…”
Jalousie window” | Wikipedia
00:24:45 “…Just something as simple as having different fretwork pattern…”
Fretwork” | Wikipedia
00:29:06 “…You see it especially in Haiti with the gingerbread houses…”
Gingerbread Houses” | Visit Haiti
00:48:29 “…but that’s what I learned – types of columns…”
5 Classical Orders of Columns Used in Historical Architecture” | John Canning & Co.

There are no products and technologies mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Managing Editor
Kruti Choksi

Editorial assistant
Abhishek Srivastava

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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