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My name is Richard Achang and I consider myself a designer/architect. I studied architecture but I’m not a registered architect in Trinidad as yet. I’m from Diego Martin. My racial background is like, wow. My father’s side is Asian, of course—Achang. My mom is from Barbados. Her father was a white plantation manager. Her mother was black. My older sister looks Filipino, my younger sister looks white.
My father instilled Catholicism in us very young. I think there is a place called “heaven.” Hopefully, when I reach the gates, they’ll say I can go in! After working for a few years in Trinidad and saving money, I did my tertiary education in Florida at about age 24 and stayed across there about ten years. Then I moved to Germany, completing the first year of my master’s degree. I’m 36 now but everybody says I look more like 26. It’s the Chinese in me. We don’t age.
I almost got married, but didn’t. Maybe in a year or so again, it may be “almost” again. Maybe one of them might beg back when they see this in the papers: “Oh gosh, come nuh, man!” I have two tattoos, the big one on my left arm and a smaller one I did with two friends when we all turned 21. You know, when you’re young and have no idea. But then, I did the big one when I was 32!
I did my whole left-arm tattoo, in a span of three weeks, over 36 hours, six sittings of six hours each. You read a book, you talk to the man, you get up and walk around and sit back down. It takes a while. My tattoo tells my family story. There’s a family tree. I was born in the year of the dragon and my sisters in the years of the tiger and ox. My dad liked yellow flowers and my mom purple orchids, so they’re there. I’ve left space on my arm to continue the saga if I have kids of my own.
Away, you can go to work in a T-shirt, because what matters is your design. Here, people kinda look at you and perceive certain things. When I first meet clients, I try to wear long sleeves. Then, if they like my work, it really doesn’t matter. At first, all clients like the Mediterranean look. I try to educate them. I like to pursue a more contemporary, minimalist architecture. But a lot of people don’t like it because there isn’t much decoration or fanciness.
Designers get paid for the more square footage they design. And people want big houses going to the edge of their land. People think, the bigger the house, the more secure I’ll feel. Everybody is paranoid about security in Trinidad and you can’t blame them. It’s a bad way to design but that is the starting point. It’s one of the things that drives the aesthetic look of the structures.
There is no bad part of architecture but there is a frustrating part of coming back to Trinidad: as an architect, you create spaces. You may come in through a short space and then open it up to create the idea of grandeur. You may want a space where the light dims. You use wind and sunlight to affect your spaces certain ways. But we don’t do any of that here. We just build a box. And put a roof on top. And that’s it. For me, every part of the job is a good part. I won’t do a building I’m unhappy with.
Architecturally, we have nothing to show for ourselves in Trinidad. We have no funding for built heritage. Developers have learned to knock down precious old buildings overnight, before anyone can protest. Couple months ago, down in Chaguanas, they knocked down that old Scottish house in a rush. It’s a lack of care for people.
Growing up, Trinidad was a creative place and a place of respect. You don’t see respect any more. You don’t see it in creating Carnival bands. You don’t see it in government. People just throw an empty bottle on the road. A Trini can go anywhere in this world and fit in. Trinidad and Tobago will always will be home. But sometimes you have to go away from home.
Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com
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