Ti-Kai Houses

Copyright @Adom Philogene Heron

Dominica’s 400-year ti kai history is a rich one. It weaves Amerindian knowledge of local hardwoods and weather (Taylor 1938), French design features and African dwelling practices (Honychurch 2020). As Olive M. Bell, the collective’s lead architect notes, ‘there’s an unspoken oneness’ between the ti kai and its natural environment.

Ti kais were constructed using hardy, slow weathering local woods (e.g. bwa bande, bwa riviere and bwa sept ans) and oriented on an east to west axis with windows that welcomed the rising sun and cooling winds. Yet, when they switched to hurricane-mode their shutters could be closed and their small form could withstand heavy winds and rain. Indeed, Bell adds, the ti kai ‘works with the hurricane, it allows the hurricane to be’.

And such deeply intuitive and resilient ti kai features include:

  • a high-pitch hip, hip-gable or gable roof, enabling fast rain run-off and minimal hurricane-wind lifting
  • a shingled roof, and later a separate porch, limiting roof detachment in high winds
  • a sturdy dowel-joined structure (fusing with weathering to create a single, stronger form),
  • as well as braced walls,
  • a collared roof and a small rectangular footprint – which enable the structure to flex and hold together in hurricane winds or earthquakes.
  • raised stone or woodpile foundations afford anchorage and reduce flood exposure
  • and jalousie blinds and shutters mitigate window damage.

Furthermore, ti kais boast intricate Antillean fretwork, colours that bring an everyday joy and yard gardens – with fruit trees, ‘provisions’ (green banana, yams, plantains, dasheen etc.), seasonings and bush teas – that offer food security, spaces for conversation or serenity, as well as local remedies.

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