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National Review Profile: Dirk Daunders

After Jackson Burnside’s untimely death earlier this year, many wondered what would happen to the various projects and organizations he spearheaded.

One of them, Jackson Burnside Limited, his architecture, planning and interior design practice on Village Road, will live on with a new successor—Dirk Saunders.

Being Jackson’s successor is certainly a big job—but someone has got to do it, and with Saunders’ experience working with Jackson for 14 years, he’s set to do well.

On August 6th, amid a night of celebration and remembrance in Jackson’s memory at Doongalik Art Gallery, Saunders was formally announced to the crowd as the new Principle to Jackson Burnside Limited, though he had already taken over the duties for several weeks beforehand.  In his speech, he honored Jackson’s memory.

“I wanted people to know that this was somebody who was very important to me personally and professionally and I was really honored and happy to be following in his footsteps — humbled and honored,” he says.

Now a registered and licensed architect, Saunders became interested in the industry through his love of drawing.

“Art was my favorite class.  Even though biology isn’t a creative subject, the thing I enjoyed most about biology was that we drew these diagrams,” he remembers.

Yet he says he was inspired by his uncle, Colin Saunders, who was an architect practicing in Grand Bahama at the time, to pursue architecture in college, applying to and then attending Tuskegee University in Alabama.

It was meeting Jackson for the first time, though, that sealed his belief that he was on the right path in life.  In his third year at Tuskegee University, Saunders attended “Common Sense Architecture”, a lecture led by Jackson himself.

“There I was in the lecture hall in Alabama, where they build with different materials and for a different climate, and there’s this Bahamian up there talking about things that are unique to The Bahamas and traditions unique to The Bahamas,” remembers Saunders.  “That was big in my mind.”

“I remember sitting in the lecture and being so impressed by the material and by Jackson and afterward I expressed I wanted to work with him after I graduated,” says Saunders.

Of course, working with Jackson didn’t happen for some time — Saunders went on to complete university, earning a Bachelor of Architecture Degree and Bachelor of Science Degree in Construction Science Management.  In 1997 however, he got his chance to join Jackson Burnside Limited, and thus began his relationship with the person he considers the most important mentor in his life.

“When Jackson was here, he was very proud to have worked with and studied under the great international architect Louis Kahn — he always talked about the lessons he learned,” says Saunders.

“A lot of people who passed through these doors, now that Jackson has passed on, think about him in that same light.  He’s our Louis Kahn.  He’ll be the one we’ll talk about in years to come to people who didn’t have the good fortune to work with him.”

They worked together for some time in Nassau before Saunders worked in the Freeport branch of Jackson Burnside Limited (that was connected to the College of the Bahamas Freeport architecture program) for four years.

As fate would have it, Saunders returned to Nassau to work closely with Jackson in his final year of life — a time when their design aesthetics and philosophies became closely intertwined, so much so that Pam Burnside, Jackson’s window, explained that Jackson was thinking of reducing his workload and handing more responsibility onto Saunders.

“At the end I’d say we probably thought very much alike,” says Saunders.  “I’d be working for something and he’d come over and I’d know what he was going to say about it, and nine times out of ten I was correct.  That’s probably the 14 years we worked together, just learning each other and feeding off each other in terms of design input.”

In his graduate studies, Saunders even went as far as to attend Jackson’s alma mater — Pennsylvania State University — however their city planning program felt too large in scale for what he wanted to accomplish back home in Nassau.  So instead he pursued and completed a Master of Architecture Degree in Suburb and Town Design from the University of Miami in 2003.

This move proved to be in line with Jackson’s overall sentiment regarding common sense architecture — a sentiment that Saunders clearly shares and which he believes is one of the most important reasons why architecture and design is important to a country.

For him, as it was for Jackson, the spirit of Bahamian architecture is its common sense — that every design aesthetic, from porches to raised floors to pitched ceilings, are all meaningful to the climate and to our cultural identity.

“You find there’s a lot of development coming here and we don’t have the guidelines in place that say this is us, this is the way we do things,” Saunders says.

“So these cultures coming here, they’re going to start to influence what we do and because we don’t have those guidelines and standards in place, I think you’ll find over the years that things will start to look differently.”

Such is the philosophy that Saunders intends to uphold at Jackson Burnside Limited, continuing to design their projects with the people, environment, culture and arts of The Bahamas in mind, as Jackson did out of great love for his country.

“Nothing has really changed; the biggest thing is just that I don’t have a Jackson Burnside sitting at the desk next to me to say ‘Hey, if we have a problem like this, how do you suggest we handle it?’” Saunders says.  “You don’t get that feedback, you just have to rely on that voice in your head that used to be him.”

Despite working through the loss of a great mentor and equally great friend, Saunders also knows he will inject his own approach to design within his shared philosophies with Jackson to respectfully continue his legacy.

“Most people when they talk to me now say I got big shoes to fill,” says Saunders.  “I have to say to them yes, I know, but I’m not trying to fill Jackson’s shoes because they’re some very big shoes and I don’t think anyone in The Bahamas can fill those shoes — I can only continue what he started and continue in his vision.”


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