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Deterioration and neglect as Red House restoration stalls

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I came to Trinidad in 2002, and I have ever since been impressed with the architecture of the Red House. At that time it was already in restoration phase and the closest one could get to it was behind the galvanise fence that jealously guards the building. Being a photographer who likes to capture the unusual details of a city, and the Red House being a landmark that captured my attention, I decided to get permission to create my next photographic project.



With permission granted, on January 19, in the company of my father, Luis Vásquez Saa, we embarked on this venture. The journey inside the building began in the southern chamber. To our surprise we found that nothing had been restored and that the deterioration and abandonment was greater than one could imagine. Considering that we had been in this country for ten years, we thought the restoration would have been almost finished. As you open the doors, you can only stand on the threshold since there is no flooring to go any further, and from the same door one can see straight through to the bare wood ceiling as there is no second floor.


At first, I was slightly confused, because I understood the building to be a little over 150 years old, and such architecture should be of historical value to Trinidadians. However, it appeared like the ruins of a bombing. The reality is that it is abandoned; the moss and paint flaking off the walls, the rust on the rails of the stairs... It was clear we were in the presence of pure abandonment (human or social). There’s passive destruction. Negligence, also, contributes to a deterioration that seems difficult to bridge. Despite this careless disregard, the architecture is impressive—the corridors that lead to the northern chamber are lined with tall wooden doors that conceal spacious rooms, some with an exceptional view of Woodford Square. As I entered the last door along one of these corridors, it was impressive to see the former parliamentary chamber. The elaborate work on the ceiling truly captivates. The northern chamber is in better condition than the southern. Nevertheless, it still suffers from abandonment as pigeons contribute to the slow deterioration of this space—which seems to be the most intact of the entire building.


At this point I thought that I had seen enough and could no longer be shocked or surprised. However, as I entered the last room, lying on the floor were large gesso pieces and sculptures which I assume belonged to the southern chamber. It was painful to see. On one hand it is positive that the historical value of the pieces has been recognised, which explains why they were not in the bin; but on the other it is pure negligence how they are now being handled. After the photo shoot I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was happy to be able to carry out my photo project and get to see the building’s insides; but on the other, there was a sense of sadness, as I never imagined that so little had been achieved from a restoration that has been ongoing for years. I think that people should feel deceived, as I did. 


Despite such abandonment and neglect, though, I saw a lot of beauty; an aesthetic that refuses to die—and it definitely deserves to be completely restored, out of respect for every citizen who lives in this country.


Click here to check out Raquel La Roche's Red House restoration photoblog


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