Colin Laird (Date of Birth: 9th Apr 1924)
Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 2
Colin Laird has been the sole architect in his architectural firm for 54 years. He has designed over 200 homes including 65 houses for the Maurice Bishop Government in Grenada and over 200 public and civil buildings, and has restored over 20 heritage buildings throughout the Caribbean and South America. His most significant achievement is the design and completion of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Library and Information Systems Authority (NALIS) building in 2002.
Laird was born on 9th April, 1924 in North Shields, England. He attended the Drayton Manor Grammar School where he excelled in mathematics and art. In 1940, while awaiting call-up for war service, he worked on the building of an armament factory where his father was in charge of construction. The teenager may have gone to the building site because of his father, the engineer, but it was the work of the architects that caught his attention.
In 1942, Laird volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and came to Piarco, Trinidad to complete his training as an aircrewman. He married Trinidadian, Jeanette née Butler in 1944, the day before leaving Trinidad for assignment to the Allied Invasion of Normandy, France. His commission included cross-Channel patrols and service in a merchant aircraft carrier squadron for countering German U-Boat submarines. After demobilisation, he completed a Diploma in Architecture and initially lectured at several tertiary institutions before going to work on the design of many London buildings under Sir Thomas Bennett. Upon winning the Royal Institute of British Architects’ top design prize, the Soane Medallion, he was invited to work with the renowned modern architect, Brian O’Rorke, as senior design architect on the Festival of Britain and the National Theatre.
Returning to Trinidad in 1952, he set up his practice and was solely responsible for designing and managing all projects. He won the Queen’s Hall competition in 1956 for his radically modern design with an inverted catenary1 roof that was extraordinary at that time.
His practice blossomed and he was entrusted with designing and restoring many prominent buildings and open spaces throughout the region. These include the Brian Lara Promenade, Lion House, House of Mr. Biswas, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Blood Bank at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, the St. Kitts and Nevis Government House of Assembly, the Dominica Government Building, and the Hasely Crawford Stadium and Jean Pierre Complex. He came first in the Regional Competition for the CARICOM Secretariat headquarters.
He describes his work on the NALIS building as “ ‘regional rationalism,’ a strictly Caribbean and Trinibagonian expression in light and space encompassing the genus loci of the site – the physical, climatic, historical and cultural aspects.” Currently, he is passionately involved in designing green buildings for tropical environments.
In 1974, Laird was made Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects for esteemed character and distinguished achievements, becoming the first Caribbean architect to gain this honour. In 2001, he received a national award, the Chaconia Medal (Gold) for his outstanding achievements, and the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects President’s Gold Medal, which was presented at the first Architectural Design and Excellence Awards in 2005.
In 1984, Laird, an avid sailor, represented Trinidad and Tobago in the famous Observer Single-handed Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) and came third in his class.
To aspiring architects, he professes that “architecture is a wonderful profession, in touch with everybody, everything; it cannot ever be boring.