Romano Sequeira - One of the first batch of students, now retired after a distinguished career as an architect.

MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY - ROMANO SEQUEIRA

 

Where do I begin? For this purpose, I guess my acceptance at the Royal Technical College of East Africa in Nairobi in May 1956, in the Department of Architecture.

As this was a new university, and we were the first batch of students with a new group of Professors and Lecturers from England, the university decided that we should all arrive at the university a couple of months early. This would accustom us to university life and get us to meet the professors and lecturers that would be guiding us in the next five years in our chosen profession.

Majority of us were mature students who had completed our schooling a few years earlier; some of us had attended universities and colleges in India for a few years, others had been in the work force, and the rest directly from having finished their schooling ‘still wet behind the ears’.

The two months before the first year was to begin, was mostly all play on the sports field, visits to the university and getting to know one another and our Lecturers.  The syllabus that we would be following would be a course from the Royal Institute of British Architects, with the exam papers set in England and corrected locally and in London. The big problem we were facing was that the syllabus was for conditions in England meaning for snow and winter, and as we were in the tropics this entailed a double study course to be employable locally.

Our study year began in September 1956, with thirty students, being prepared for the intermediate exams to be held in 1959. Although the syllabus entailed a lot of work, I was still able to find time to play field hockey and be involved in athletics. The years I was there, I was the 100 and 200 hundred yard champion even on our yearly visits to Makerere University in Kampala. In spite of the amount of work, I was able to join in all the other fun activities, rag day, and even a prank at the women’s residence that almost got us expelled. Most of these types of activities I understand have never been replicated in the years after we had completed our studies.

As the local Architects wanted to establish a very high standard, much higher than the universities in England, only fifteen of us were allowed to proceed to the third year for the intermediate exam. In 1959 a delegation of the president of RIBA and a group of architects visiting South Africa were persuaded to stop off in Nairobi to view our work. As I said before our portfolio was, double that done by the universities in England and on average of a higher standard. The reason for this was to be able to get a recognition of our work and an agreement that from now on the students following us would be doing a syllabus set locally for tropical conditions; exams and papers corrected locally and only a cursory correction in London. Unlike us, students would no longer have to design for snow and winter conditions.

The third year was tough, because of the number of drawings we had to complete for the above and finding time to study the other subjects. On an average, I only slept about three hours a day. I had to put my athletic training on hold. Of the fifteen, only five of us proceeded to fourth year. In summation, we started with thirty students and only five of us would now sit the final exam. The fourth year thankfully was more relaxed and I was able to catch up on my sleep and ‘recharge’ my batteries. The Department now informed us that as we had to cover a lot of work, our course would be extended a year during which time we would be locally employed and attend part time lectures and sit our final exam in 1962.

During our vacation in 1958, another student Skip Rodrigues, who was in engineering, and I hitchhiked through Kenya, Uganda all the way to the Ruwenzori Mountains and Tanzania for a month. We were in Nyeri and the Aberdare forest about the time that the Mau Mau uprising had just ended. In 1960, I was fortunate enough to be in the group that went to the Outward Bound School in Loitokitok and scale Mount Kilimanjaro. These are some of the experiences that are etched in my memory.

In September of 1961, we were back at university for our final year and final exam in June 1962. Britain in order to control immigration came out with a new Act that would bar me from entering London with my British Passport, which was now a useless document requiring visas in all countries in Europe. I departed for London In July, soon after the final exam to obtain my two years practical experience. With the help of a good friend and fellow architect, Shanti Vadgama who had moved to London in 1959, I obtained a room in Belsize Park, which now was to be my home for the next two years. The initial arrival coming to London was a shock to me. In East Africa, we had been subjected to a lot of British propaganda; so much so, I had a mindset that London was the ultimate land of dreams! As the plane flew over France, we were in thick cloud, when suddenly the plane broke through this as we approached Heathrow Airport and my reaction was, is this London? ‘I wish I can turn this plane and go back’.

Once I got used to life in London, as many of our first group of students were there, life became bearable. I joined a firm called Victor Bloom & Partners, not far from East Africa House. I was involved with a large multi-storey office building and had to, as part of the job, enter into ‘party wall agreements’ with the owners of the adjoining buildings - this was a new experience not common in East Africa. In June 1962, I sat the exam at the RIBA and having passed obtained my ARIBA, in July.

It was time to leave London, as I found it difficult getting used to seasonal changes and cramped up living condition. In August, I departed for Stockholm, Sweden were I stayed a month hoping to work there as they were into architecture that was more progressive. As employment was difficult, and living expensive, I decided to return to Nairobi. Leaving Stockholm, I travelled to Denmark, then Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and finally France. I arrived in Marseilles and a week later boarded a ship through the Mediterranean, Suez Canal, Red Sea and finally the Indian Ocean to my hometown Mombasa. It is difficult to describe the feeling of leaving behind the pollution in London and being back in sunshine, sea breeze and the swaying palm trees; no more seasonal changes.

I moved to Nairobi and joined Vamos & Partners doing many houses for the politicians. In this capacity, I supervised the house we were doing for Odinga in Kisumu, for Tom Mboya and another in Machakos. In 1965, a compatriot Pio Gama Pinto who had fought for Kenya’s independence and imprisoned with Kenyatta was assassinated, because he complained about how Kenyatta was amassing wealth and ignoring the common African. His brother Rosario Gama Pinto, who was working in our office, had to flee the country overnight with his family as he was warned that he was next on the list. This was a clear indication that our days were ‘numbered’, and being born in the country made no difference.

Two of my sisters had moved to Canada, one to Lethbridge, Alberta, and the other to Toronto. Therefore, in December 1967, I decided it was time to immigrate and moved to Toronto. We sponsored our parents and young sister and said our final goodbye to Kenya, which I have to say, was a great beautiful country while we were there. I cannot comment on what it is like today as I have never been back.

I now live in Mississauga, which is on the western border of Toronto near Pearson Airport. Compared to London this is a paradise, even though we have seasonal changes, it is bearable, as unlike London, there is heating everywhere, clean breathable air and comfortable houses - not the cramped small rooms like London.

In 1968, I joined a firm called Bregman & Hamann Architects, in their healthcare division. The job was the multi-million-dollar 17 storey Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.  I was one of the architects and job captain supervising a team responsible for producing the architectural drawings and co-ordinating the work of structural, mechanical and electrical engineers. Once construction began, I moved to the site to check all the shop drawings and help in site supervision. After the building was completed, I did the deficiency inspections, handing over the building to the owners and finally warranty inspection. This building was completed in 1974.

While I was still involved with Mount Sinai Hospital, in 1972, I was one of the architects, Project Manager, job captain and contract/site administrator of the multi-million dollar York County Hospital, in Newmarket, today called the Southlake Regional Hospital. This was a five-storey building, which had flood plane problems at the main entrance.  

In 1974, I became a member of the Ontario Association of Architects and the Royal Institute of Canadian Architects after completing their exam.

I next did a multi-million dollar building in the Sunny-Brooke Hospital complex.  I was one of the architects, project manager and job captain, but unfortunately, just prior to tender, the hospital management scrapped the project.

My next project was doing the drawings, and supervising the construction of the International banking in the basement of the Toronto Dominion Building One in Toronto.  We had to demolish an existing cinema and provide a new vault under the existing plaza.

My next project was the existing Baycrest Home for the Aged. The building had to be upgraded to code requirements while the ten storey building was still occupied with senior citizens some mobile and some  bed ridden, so that it could be linked to the new hospital that was being done by another team in the office.

I now moved to the five storey multi-million dollar Ottawa General Hospital and Cancer Clinic.  I was one of the architects, project manager,  job captain and contract/site administrator. This required flying to Ottawa once a week and at times staying there two weeks when our site man was on vacation.  Without reservation, I have to say that this was the best project I have ever worked on. The contractor was well organized, the building always clean and the hospital finished on the date stated in the contract. This job was completed in 1983.

Soon after, I joined Anthony Butler Architects in Hamilton, Ontario. This small office had inherited a very large multi-million dollar hospital, but had no expertise in health care. It was the Hamilton General Hospital covering two city blocks. The hospital was special because it was to contain a Burn Unit and a couple of large operating rooms for heart transplants. I was hired as a project manager, job captain and contract/site supervisor. It was complicated because the hospital had to be fully functional while the new building was being built, after which the existing buildings had to be renovated without disrupting any of the services. While on this project, I also completed four major renovations in the McMaster Health Sciences Hospital.  The Hamilton General hospital was completed in 1996.

No new hospitals were being planned at this time, as the Government was amalgamating existing hospitals. I joined Dunlop & Farrow Architects, who required someone to coordinate the connection between the new Trade Centre at the CNE with the existing buildings. I retired at the age of sixty after this six-month contract.  From 1996 to 1998, I enjoyed my relaxation and with the help of one of my daughters, finished the basement in our home.

In 1998 my old firm, which was now under new management and called B+H architects, had become international with offices in Beijing, New Delhi, Middle East and California to name a few, asked me to join them as one of the architects, project manager, job captain and contract/site supervisor for the multi-million dollar Brantford General Hospital.  The project was complicated because it sloped 45 ft. from front to back, and the new building attached to the existing was on ground with loose sand down to forty feet. Because of this, the hospital had to be constructed on a 3.00 ft. deep concrete raft foundation.

After thirty-three years in health care and a legacy of five major hospitals in Ontario, I feel I have contributed to my adopted country.  I am grateful that Canada accepted our family and quite honestly, life has been great and peaceful.

I retired in 2001 during construction, soon after my wife had retired.  Since then we have travelled three to four times a year, to the Caribbean mainly Cuba, as we both miss the hot sun, ocean, sand and the swaying palms.  Unfortunately, soon after our return in March this year the Covid-19 put a damper on our plans for the future. I am now 84 years old, still function as if I am 60, and enjoy life with the wife, two daughters and our two little grandchildren.  We have self-isolated since March, I am catching up on my reading and anxiously waiting for the day when we can go south once again.  To keep busy I have also been writing a series of stories not for publication about two cousins Jogo and Juma growing up in Mombasa and eventually completing their studies at Royal College Nairobi.

Romano Sequeira, OAA, MRAIC, ARIBA (retired)

May 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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