Wooden houses

Series Cultural Heritage


In Curaçao, wooden houses were built especially by the lower-income classes, contrary to the Windward Islands where wood was the most important building material and was used by all the social classes. This wood construction originated in Curaçao after the abolition of slavery in 1863, when former slaves moved to the city. They built their houses on the periphery of old Willemstad: on the Otrobanda side, in the vicinity of Brionweg and at Quinta (north of Hoogstraat), and on the Punda side, especially east of Pietermaai and Berg Altena (Coronet, Nieuw Nederland). These wooden quarters expanded considerably and new quarters arose after the arrival of the Shell oil industry at the beginning of the 20th century, when many workers from the Caribbean region came to Curaçao to work in the refinery. In the city, quarters like Fleur de Marie and St. Jago grew rapidly. Outside the city, near the refinery arose quarters like Marchena and Buena Vista.

In Curaçao, the wooden houses are basically simple in design: one story with a rectangular floor plan covered with a hip roof made of corrugated zinc sheets. This kas di tabla is derived from the kunuku house, the rectangular plantation cottage. Just as this type of housing, the wooden houses usually have a rather symmetric appearance: a centrally placed door with a shuttered window on either side. The houses generally have few ornaments. In Otrobanda (Kortijn) we find houses of which only the façade is made of traditional quarry stones and the rest of wood. In Otrobanda, examples are also found of wooden houses with expensive roof tiles as roof covering. Two-story wooden houses are exceptional in Curaçao.

Although there is no detailed inventory, it can be assumed that there are in all over a hundred wooden houses in the historic quarters that are worth while preserving. They are, however, disappearing at a rapid rate, due to lack of maintenance, but also because owners renovate their houses from wood to stone. The house is then also enlarged and the zinc roof is replaced by corrugated sheet (whether or not free from asbestos). The wooden character of these quarter is rapidly disappearing.

In the framework of the urban renewal, a pilot project was started in the quarter of St. Jago a number of years ago. New (stone) houses were then also built on open sites within the quarter. Recently, the renovation of the wooden houses was started.

Fleur de Marie – Cultural Heritage

The route of the biennial Open Monument Day, which will be held on Sunday, May 18, 2003 in the quarter of Scharloo Abou, will also lead through the ‘wooden quarter’ of Fleur de Marie, situated against the rocky slope the Scharloo hill. Around 1900, working-class stone houses were built on the border of the quarter, along Bargestraat. The rest of Fleur de Marie was divided into small parcels that were rented out to people who subsequently built their own wooden houses themselves.
Until recently, the lands of Fleur de Marie were for the greater part the property of one Curaçao family. In 2001, the lands of the quarter were bought by the foundation Monumentenzorg Curaçao and N.V. Stadsherstel Willemstad. The intention is to clean up the quarter. It is a good thing that the these organizations and the Government realize that the historic buildings of Fleur de Marie, much of which have already disappeared, also belong to our cultural heritage, which has to be treated with great care.

Wooden houses: cultural heritage, St. Jago, Curaçao
Wooden house Oranjestraat, Curaçao

Text and pictures: Ir. Michael Newton.