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A series of pavilions, connected by landscaped gardens and terraces, provides a relaxed, open-air lifestyle for the owners of this island retreat


Even in paradise there are challenges for architects looking to build the perfect hideaway. The weather isn't always perfect – there's the occasional hurricane to contend with – and the heat can be relentless.

Creating an idyllic tropical retreat means finding appropriate architectural responses to both the climate and the topography. And in many cases, the solution can be found in the colonial architecture of the past.

This house, on the private island of Mustique in the West Indies, is a good example. Designed by Canadian architect Jack Diamond, Alumbrera is composed of a series of pavilions that are characteristic of early colonial homesteads.

Tray ceilings, wide verandahs, large overhanging eaves, and walls that open up to the outdoors are all traditional features which provide plenty of shade and cross ventilation.

"The architectural principles put into practice before the availability of air conditioning still prevail," says Diamond.


These traditional solutions also help convey the romance of a luxurious, tropical hideaway.

"Verandahs are magnificent social spaces that provide shade and a cooling breeze – people can live outside all year round," he says.

The pavilions, which include dining, living and bedroom wings, are arranged around a central terrace and connected by landscaped gardens. Diamond says the siting of the pavilions was determined by both the topography and the prevailing winds. The house has been positioned to maximize the summer breezes from the south, while minimizing the effect of the stronger Southeast trade winds.

"But the layout is not only functional," says Diamond. "It is also a composition where every building and every retaining wall has a distinct role to play."

Seclusion and creating a sense of luxury were key factors. So, too, were the spectacular views and the desire to work with the existing contours of the land and the mature trees on site.

Central to the design of each pavilionare large, louvered, folding vertical doors that can be raised to open up entire walls.

"In the raised position, the doors effectively lower the ceiling along the covered verandahs, creating a more intimate environment," says Diamond.

In the living room, the doors can open up the entire perimeter of the room. Other pavilions also feature the vertical bifolds. In the dining room, these are combined with glazed doors that can slide away into a hillside cavity.

Ventilation is also provided by perforated panels that allow air movement between the tray ceiling and the roof.

Many of the more decorative aspects of the pavilions also have a functional role.

"Making a virtue of a necessity is one of the tricks of the trade," says Diamond. "The intersecting rafters in the main pavilion not only look dramatic, they also reinforce the structure, which meets the requirements of the Florida Hurricane Code. In addition, each rafter is secured by hurricane straps to a concrete beam around the perimeter of the pavilion."

The wide eaves also have a hidden role to play – in addition to providing protection from the sun and rain.

"As there is no ground water on Mustique, all water is collected off the roofs. The protective roof is therefore of great symbolic and practical importance."

Each pavilion also features a sloping stone base, which helps to visually ground the buildings and creates a sense of repose and strength, says Diamond.

The residence is designed to cater to two young families and grandparents, and incorporates a long bedroom wing. Here, the pavilions include normal walls to provide a sense of security and enclosure.

A large infinity pool is positioned half way down the cliff en route to the beach. Its position ensures it is screened from the prevailing winds.

"The pool is colored to match the blue of the ocean," says Diamond. "The blue wall offers another splash of color, highlighting a man-made structure amid the blue and green of the natural elements."

First published date: 24 May 2005

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Credit List

Architect Jack Diamond, RAIC, Hon FAIC, RIBA, Diamond and Schmitt Architects (Ontario)
Main contractor Buttcon
Shingles and gutters White cedar
Concealed rafters Greenheart from Guyana
Exposed rafters Ipe from Brazil
Door and window joinery Custom Spanish cedar and mahogany from Radiant City Toronto
Flooring Scored concrete topping
Walls Tinted cement stucco
Pool tiles Glass mosaic