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Transformation for Beetham

Thursday, January 2, 2014
NY-based Trini works on lifelong dream
US-based Trinidadian student Stefan Mohamed, left, with Beetham Gardens resident Albert Sprott during a recent visit. PHOTOs: BRIAN NG FATT

Stefan Pinheiro never forgot the sight of the Beetham on his boyhood trips from his home in Barataria to Port-of-Spain.



“Growing up in Barataria and travelling from Barataria to Port-of-Spain, I always looked at the Beetham as a shanty town. I wished someone would do something about this and try to improve the scenery as one travels to Port-of-Spain, not to mention the quality of life of the people in the Beetham,” says Pinheiro.



It was that indelible image of poverty that led Pinheiro to choose the Beetham for his thesis project when he entered the master’s programme in architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2010. The road to Charlotte and his current project on the Beetham has taken an interesting path.



In 1996, Pinheiro, who had been living with his grandmother in Barataria, moved to New York to be with his mother. In  2000, he graduated from the New York City College of Technology, where he majored in architectural technology, and landed an internship with the famous American architect Daniel Libeskind.



It was a good move.



On February 27, 2003, Libeskind won the competition to be the master plan architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site on Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, New York, after the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Pinheiro had ample opportunities to learn from that project.



While he interned with Libeskind, Pinheiro soaked in invaluable information from Libeskind’s many projects, including constructing low-cost houses for tsunami victims in Una Wana Tuna, a Sri Lankan community devastated by the tsunami in 2004.



The one- and two-bedroom houses Libeskind designed cost US$3,000 each.



Libeskind developed communities for a fishing village and designed a community centre and craft centre, as well as a diving centre to teach people how to swim and dive.    



Libeskind’s firm hired Pinheiro after his internship and he worked there for two more years, becoming involved with architectural designs, including the Jewel on the Las Vegas Strip, a tower in Warsaw, Poland, and the Hummingbird Tower in Toronto. 



His job was to work on computer models and three-dimensional models of many of Libeskind’s projects.



In 2010, Pinheiro decided to do his master’s degree and began his research on the Beetham, which included a Guardian article: The Beetham: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.



In December 2013, he came home to visit the Beetham.



“The biggest surprise was the abject poverty. As you go down to Phase Five of the Beetham, the instability of the environment, the shacks and the lack of opportunity is what struck me, along with the stigma attached to the Beetham,” says Pinheiro. 



“Using the issues on site: the La Basse garbage dump across the road and poor housing, while recognising these issues as opportunities for development, I asked myself, ‘What can we do to better?’” 



  Pinheiro plans to design a recycling business in the La Basse that could actually result in a thriving construction business.



“Of course this is all a university project on paper, but it is a project that government could turn into a feasible plan.”



Pinheiro targeted one issue within the Beetham itself: to improve the quality of life and eliminate danger from the jumble of electrical wires among houses that are so close together. Pinheiro says he would encourage solar panels for electricity in Beetham homes. 



Next, he would create bridges from the Beetham to the La Basse, and develop a recycling centre in the La Basse so that recycled material could make its way back into the Beetham in products that could be used to build better houses.



Again, he reminds: “This is a synthetic project, but it could have real-life potential.



“The recycling project would include an area to sort material and could even include recycling classes so that scavengers now operating in the Beetham could learn about hazardous material: what material they shouldn’t come in contact with and what clothes they should wear while recycling. They would learn how to maximise recycling efforts. 



“With government’s investment into the project, the Beetham could even develop an industry in making products from recycled items, creating new products by using plastic moulds.



“They can create cables or aluminium panels from recycled aluminium. Many products can be recycled to make cheap, efficient housing material that can go right back into the Beetham or be sold for other areas in T&T. Everyone would benefit from a sophisticated recycling effort within the Beetham.”



Pinheiro’s thesis is still a work in progress, but he believes it can create economic opportunities beyond scavenging in the Beetham.



Stay tuned. By March, Pinheiro will have renderings or computer drawings that actually look like photos of a whole new industry for the Beetham.


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