With conviction and unyielding passion, Vidal Dowding has built a repertoire of memorable work. He didn’t have childhood dreams of becoming an architect, but today his clientele includes Portland Holdings, Geejam Outpost and the Geejam Collection. Not bad for the 35-year-old contemporary designer. Dowding cites Richard Meier, the award-winning architect known around the world for his use of abstract and white contemporary buildings and open spaces, as one of his influences. His bookshelves tell tales of an art lover, a humanist and a civic-minded global citizen.
From books on Kandinsky and Pollock to Jay Z’s Decoded and the unapologetic advertising legend George Lois, Dowding’s collection displays his passion for learning. Dowding believes in getting things right through innovation and collaboration- the pursuit of architectural design that will change the narrative of how people live in and experience the space around them.
He was born in Guyana in 1981 and spent most of his early years in Belize. Due to his father’s work in the civil service, particularly in international development, he was given the opportunity to experience different countries and cultures at a young age. “My early childhood memories were playing barefoot in the street and walking miles to school,” he said, adding, “that type of village community was what I remember.” His secondary-level academic years were spent in Barbados. In 1997 he moved to Jamaica and has called it home ever since. “Jamaica is the one country I have been in for the longest time so I consider myself a Jamaican.”
He received both his Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies and Masters of Architecture Degree from the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology in Kingston. He candidly attributes his growth and development to the tutelage he received at some of Jamaica’s most renowned firms: Alberga Graham Jamaica, Marvin Goodman & Associates, and at Harold Morrison+Robert Woodstock Associates where he was an associate between 2010 and 2012.
In the early days of his firm, Atelier Vidal, he worked from a rickety table on a construction site. According to him, the firm “was born in fire.” By this he meant landing the Trident Hotel, the firm’s largest project to date. “Trident Hotel was pretty much the deep end for us,” Dowding says, adding that he had agreed to collaborate with hotelier Jon
Baker and millionaire Michael Lee Chin on a Portland renaissance – a presentation of new and old concepts comprising of contemporary residential and boutique resort spaces intertwined with the dreamy aesthetics of Port Antonio.
At the end of his tenure at one of Jamaica’s leading architectural firms, not without some perceived contention, Dowding envisaged taking on the completion of the Trident project as a one-man show. He and he alone would work arduously at what was his first independent contract. “I said I am gonna take this thing and I’m gonna draw it and get this done.” However it was bigger than he imagined. “In six months I had eight people working for me,” he adds.
Atelier Vidal was founded in 2012 and as he put it “it was born out of a need to finish Trident.” Three years later, with an office in Kingston and a US-Based product procurement company, Vidal Dowding now leads a small team of talented architects on a series of iconic projects and continues to strike a major chord in the local and international design community.
Coco San was the first house project for Atelier Vidal. What began as a basic renovation became a collective of contemporary modern interiors with a more traditional Georgian exterior. “We kept the villa as close to what it was originally, but the inside is more modern. It was our first tropical contemporary take in Jamaica.”
To Dowding connecting the user to the outdoors was important. “I’ve always pictured my approach to architecture as an intervention within the landscape. We used warm woods, mahogany and cedar, and we combined this white building with the green landscape. We aren’t hiding the architecture, but we’re not blending in. We try to connect the usersto the outdoors wherever they are in the building.” Dowding and his team created a framed view at Coco San. “So, for example, when you are in one of the bedrooms you are really focused on the magnificent view within that frame,” Dowding says. In the Caribbean, there is an apparent desire to live on the outside. Dowding and his team were inspired by the tropical or cooler box invention from the colonial era and created canopies, so that rain or shine persons would be able to experience being outside while being protected from the elements.
“The villas were thought to be too close together. No one knew what they wanted to do in terms of giving each villa its privacy,” said Dowding, who added that this became a challenge for his team. The solution was to build privacy walls there. “We looked at the natural elements of the site, there were lots of trees, and we tried to make the walls move around the existing trees. So we call them dancing privacy walls. When you go into a villa it’s like you have blinders on. Your view is focused on the ocean. You don’t remember there is a villa next to you. It’s contemporary, linear, white and always based on context and nature.” The beauty about working with white, Dowding says, is that at any time of the day the changing light merges well with it. “Nature goes through all kinds of different colours. You get an awesome orange hue in the mornings and when the sun sets there is a type of purple haze. For me that’s what a white building does in the landscape. That’s why I use white so much.”
He continues, “we were so integrally involved in Trident that we had control over the internal finishes, the sink the faucets the furniture and even the art. Mike Stanley’s art is what you see – he does a contemporary take on the Jamaican landscape. The pieces of art that embrace the Trident space is essentially his life’s work.” The Trident Hotel and Villas went on to win the Governor General’s Award for design resorts, an award Atelier Vidal shares with Marvin Goodman and Associates