Last Updated: November 29, 2016
Architecture in Bermuda
The architecture of Bermuda houses is quite unique and has evolved with time since the first settlers came to the island in 1612. The architecture has been influenced by the isolation of the island, constraints in resources and the subtropical environment where storms and hurricanes are common.
It has also been inspired by the contemporary architecture from England, Caribbean and even North America. By the end of 17th century, the pattern and style that are visible even today, had set in. The early houses typically followed the British colonial farmhouse styles.
Bermuda is known for its pastel colored houses. A typical Bermuda house will be a small single storied building with pastel colored load bearing masonry walls. Windows are relatively small (usually 6 by 6 sliding sash) with wooden shutters or blinds.
Often the houses are made on a slope that requires steps leading up to a porch or a veranda around the front door. This is where the visitors are offered to sit and relax under the shades.
Typical Bermuda Houses
The staircase is usually wider at the base and tapers as it goes up and have two arms on the sides which is locally called the "welcoming arms". Sometimes the staircase with arms on each side would lead to an upper storey. In narrow streets like in St. George's, you will often see the staircase is flushed with the wall to save space.
Roofs are typically made of white limestone and have grooves. These limestone roofs serve to capture the rain water, filter the water as it passes through the limestone grooves (limestone providing bleaching effect) and finally storing them in underground tanks as drinking water. This is still the most widely used method of creating drinking water in the island where there is no fresh water lake or supply source.
The underground reservoirs are created generally under the bed rooms or living room and not under the kitchen or bathrooms. However, in the earlier days the water tanks were created above the ground and were made of stones structures.
Water collected from rain is never enough to meet all the demands of potable water in the island. Drinking water is also made through a process of reverse osmosis where the seawater is passed through a membrane at high pressure creating purified water.
Many houses get such water from the Government that are piped into their houses at a separate cost. Some commercial establishments in Hamilton City buy potable water from lenses that are piped to them by private businesses. There are also some houses and apartments that have wells to make use of soil water. There are over 3,000 wells in Bermuda and all would need to be certified by the Health Department. The well water can be used only for washing and flushing and not as drinking water.
Limestone which is used for making the roof is a porous substance. Therefore a lime or cement coating is used to make it waterproof. Similarly walls are also made waterproof and this is one reason why the walls are painted. Usually pastel colors like yellow, blue, green etc are chosen as wall colors, but white is also common. In fact most houses in St. George's are white. Although there has been architectural changes that has taken place over the years, these basic components have hardly changed over time.
Another common feature in typical Bermuda houses are the chimneys which are used for generating cooking heat and releasing smoke. In fact chimneys can be used to determine age of a house. For example the oldest chimneys were always separated from the palmetto thatched roofs in order to safeguard the house from fire.
Later two flues were introduced and British military type plates were fixed into the chimneys. In subsequent days, hexagonal and octagonal chimneys could be seen. Some houses have more than one Chimneys. For example the Stewart Hall in St. George's where Bermuda Perfumery is located has some seven chimneys.
The urban buildings is St. George's town are characterized with their stone built and located by the roadside. Typically the traditional fence would be replaced by wooden gate and stone made gateposts. After cement was available starting late 18th century, several features like keystones, quoins, pilasters etc were seen in the houses.
There were primarily two kinds of house architectures that were used in the 17th centuries that are still prevailing today. For the churches and cathedrals, the Gothic architecture was quite popular which had pointed arches and flying buttresses. For homes, gable-end based on Stuart architecture was followed which typically had triangular slanted roofs. During the initial days, even palmetto thatched roofs were common. Subsequently the use of steel plates coated with stones and later the use of limestone became common that helped strengthen the roofs.
Since Bermuda cedar wood was abundantly available, the early settlers also used the cedar wood to make homes and churches. Soon the Government (Somers Isle Company was the administrative body those days) imposed laws to restrict the use of cedar because they were extremely useful for shipbuilding which contributed in a major way to Bermuda's economy. Also the cedar houses were vulnerable to strong winds and storms.
Thereafter the only choice with the architects was to use the Bermuda limestone which were cut into pieces (2 feet by 10 inches) to create blocks. Today as per the law all houses should be able to withstand wind speed of over 100 miles per hour. Walls of many houses these days are also built using concrete.
Earlier homes had a buttery which was used to stock food and drinks. This chamber was separated from the main house and built such a way that kept the stocks cool. It was typically built 4-5 steps above the ground and had a pointed roof to disseminate the heat quickly.
The kitchen in the typical early homes would also be separated from the main house or would be placed in the basement and have a wide raised chimney. The interiors like the ceiling and the floors would be made of wood like pine or hemlock. In the 18th century, one often saw the use of Casement Windows that were hinged to the frames. They were subsequently replaced with Sash Windows which had glass panes that could slide against each other. The earlier fences around the gardens were replaced with walls that were usually kept at a low height although some houses erected high walls with wooden gates.
The typical Georgian Architecture with two chimneys, slanted roofs and square windows is not common in Bermuda because for some reason this look did not catch on. But the colonial Georgian architecture of North America is visible in the contemporary local styles. In 1800s Bermudians imported the idea of Chinese moongates, although in Bermuda they were made of limestone. Moongates are arch like structures and believed to bring good luck to the couples who pass through them. There are many such structures that you will find all across the island.
In the modern times, Bermuda has been extensively exposed to the outside world and as a result there have been different modern architectures that started getting adapted in the island. This happened more in the commercial buildings. This resulted in Bermuda quickly losing its own indigenous architecture against the influence of modern designs.
Consequently Bermuda National Trust
was formed to protect the heritage buildings and also restrict the modern influences to retain Bermuda's original heritage in architecture. Today the St. George's Town and many of Bermuda's historical forts
located at the eastern end of the island are part of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Historical buildings in Bermuda and their architecture
St. George's Parish
Located in St. George's, this house was built in 1731 and is now the home to St. George's Historical Society Museum. It's an excellent example of a house with Welcoming Arms - a staircase with two arms lead to the upper floor.
Bermuda's parliament used to be housed here once when St. George was the capital of the island. This house was built in 1620 with all limestone and by following Italian style.
This is one of Bermuda's oldest houses built by a privateer and slave trader in 1699.
Also known as The Globe Hotel, this building was built by Governor Samuel Day around 1700. He used public funds to create his own home which he retained even after being ousted from his office. The house was later bought over by Bermuda Historical Monuments Trust in 1951 to create a museum that showcases Bermuda's role in America's Civil War.
Built in 1713 and renovated in 19th century, this is the oldest continually used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere.
This stone fortification was built around 1830s at the north-eastern tip of the island. It is part of UNESCO's World Heritage sites and houses a museum.
The construction of the church started in 1874 as a replacement of the St. Peter's Church. However, hurricanes, financial difficulties and infighting led to abandonment of the project.
Visit Traditional Bermuda Homes
to know more about traditional homes in St. Georges along with their location and how to go about visiting them.
: This 1710 mansion is located in Smith's parish and now houses a museum.
Built in the early 1700s in a typical Georgian architecture with wide upper-floor verandas overlooking the south shore, this building is the official residence of Bermuda's Premier. It has lovely flower garden in front and vegetable and fruit gardens at the back side. Camden House is located in Paget Parish inside the Botanical Gardens.
Built around 1700, this is a great example of Bermudian architecture that has its origin with the British. The house has stairs leading to its front doors with arms on both sides. It's located on North Shore road in Devonshire Parish.
Located in Smith's Parish, this is an example of a wonderful Gothic architecture that was used in mid 1800s to transform a simple country church into such an awesome structure.
Located on Pitts Bay Road in Hamilton City, this is the world headquarters of Bacardi. The architecture is designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and follows an international design.
Located in Hamilton City, this church is a great example of neo Gothic architecture. It's construction was completed in 1894 following which the City status was conferred to Hamilton which until then was known as Hamilton Town. It is the tallest building in the city.
This fortification including the Commissioners house is part of the National Museum of Bermuda and located within the Royal Naval Dockyard complex.
This large & lavish 2-storeyed house was originally built at the mouth of Royal Naval Dockyard (Sandys) in 1899 as the residence of Office-in-Charge of Works. It was badly damaged in 1916 by hurricane and later restored in the same year. Although the building was no longer used as a residence from 1951, it was later reopened in 1965 and renamed to HMS Malabar and used in various role until 1995 when Royal Navy closed operations at the dockyard.
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