Press > Living History at Home, by Peter Backeberg

Living History at Home, by Peter Backeberg


Surrounded by the ocean and situated 600 miles from the nearest continent, Bermuda’s isolation has led to some unique and intriguing innovations. A perfect visual representation of this concept is the local architecture.

“A Bermuda cottage is instantly recognizable,” says senior architect and part-time historian Colin Campbell of OBMI Architecture.

Of course, the most recognizable feature in Bermuda architecture is the pristine white roof that Mark Twain compared to the “icing on a cake.” These roofs are an excellent example of an innovation born of necessity. Bermuda has no natural fresh water supply, so for centuries Bermudians have been collecting rainwater off their roofs and storing it in tanks under or next to their homes, providing a life-sustaining resource that also accents the already picturesque islands.

There’s another more subtle history behind the pleasing aesthetic of the Bermuda home, says Colin, whose observation is based in both the human and natural history of Bermuda. Skilled labor was in short supply in the early days of Bermuda, with most craftsmen focused on building boats and ships.

“In the maritime lifestyle and economy of Bermuda, everyone needed a boat, whether for trade, transportation, or fishing,” says Colin. “These same carpenters and boat builders were also responsible for building homes on the island.”

In the late 1600s, when the hardy Bermuda cedar was deemed highly valuable as a ship building material, home construction shifted to the use of limestone quarried from the land. The stone homes were built according to simple yet fundamental design principles and with a rudimentary set of tools. The resulting buildings were remarkably similar and consistent in style.

“Measuring string or chains, a carpenter’s square, and plumb bob were used to lay out the home using the basic structure of a 3/4/5 triangle to create right angles for the home and ultimately the pitch of the roof too,” explains Colin.

That pitch, serendipitously, lines up almost perfectly with the natural limestone slopes of the Bermuda landscape.

“Wind erosion on the coral sandstone that forms our land produces limestone slopes in the landscape that are very close to the 32-degree pitch of roof built using the 3/4/5 triangle as its base,” says Colin. “There is a tapestry to the landscape form and contextual architecture of Bermuda that is beautiful.”

This tendency was also recognized and applied carefully by one of Bermuda’s most prolific and renowned architects, Will Onions, who is widely regarded as the father of modern Bermudian architecture.

Will, along with his business partner Val Bouchard, designed homes and other buildings across the island, most of which paid homage to the legacy and culture of these early homes.

“There is an elegance and simplicity to the work of those two men that was based on and exemplified the human development and natural history of Bermuda,” says Colin. “It is a sustainable contextual design feature that continues to evolve but never too far from the unique legacy and distinctive culture where it was born.”

Originally published by: Destination Magazine