The Lessons of NAPA

UdecottNAPA33x7.jpgAs I read Rubadiri Victor’s important report on the “NAPA tragedy” in the press and the statement, “$80 million is a realistic estimate of the costs that would be involved to correct the defects,” I was reminded of another architectural landmark on a small island which endured similar criticism, The Auditorio de Tenerife (below) located in in the Canarian capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain.) That project was criticized for various structural problems and budget increases.1280px-Auditorio_de_Tenerife_Pano

sydney-opera-house-2This pales in comparison to the Mother of all performing arts centre projects with problems; the Sydney Opera House. That controversial project was riddled with political intrigue. Whereas NAPA was about completion at all cost in time for CHOGM, the Sydney Opera House “was all about control; about the triumph of homegrown mediocrity over foreign genius.” Someone smarter than me once said, “we in Trinidad and Tobago deify mediocrity.” These projects may be closer than we think!

This project, NAPA North, to me, is incomplete, and the $80 million cited by Rubadiri in the actual report “to convert a handful of rooms to Academy and Performing Arts specifications,” is part of the completion cost. We all know that the initial function was as a showcase piece for the Queen and other Commonwealth heads. The functional aspects as an academy and performing arts centre were secondary. The hotel was thrown in as a lagniappe. Ask Keith Rowley!

This project and others also point to a habit of budget estimates that seem out of sync with reality. Piarco Airport Terminal was budgeted for one figure and came in at double that cost, approximately TT$1.6B, about US$250M. At that time, I remember the expansion of Baltimore-Washington Airport of similar size and scope came in on budget at US$260M. Where did we get a figure of half that to build a new terminal in Trinidad? The idea of “…a politically lowballed construction budget, which eventually resulted in a cost overrun…” was floated in an interesting document called “Design by Deception: The Politics of Megaproject Approval” by Professor Bent Flyvbjerg in Harvard Design Magazine, Spring/Summer 2005.

There is something wrong in our construction industry, as alluded to by participants in the Uff Commission of Inquiry, and it overlaps with this notion of a developed state with its attendant requirements of modern and inclusive cultural spaces, consultative democracy and accountability. NAPA is now a symbol of flawed delivery of grand ideas for the benefit of all. Much like water for all by 2000! It is also a jumping off point for a revamping of the idea of a Ministry of Culture that still is appended to other ministries like an sickly stepchild. There was much discussion, now the work has to begin. Rubadiri’s report is part of the “actioning” of the players to overcome the indifference of consecutive governments to what is our greatest gift to the world, our culture. Good job Rubadiri.

© 2010, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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