This document provides guidance and advice to owners, occupiers, agents, planning staff and advisory bodies on appropriate design in the Town of St. George Historic Protection Area, being the central ‘town’ portion of the Town of St. George and Related Fortifications World Heritage Site.

The guidance notes apply to matters of design related to the development of existing buildings as well as to the development of new buildings and the public realm.

1. The Intent of Guidelines

Development regulations in the Bermuda Plan 2018 are prescriptive, that is, what shall be required. Policies within the Plan include general principles which establish the philosophy of development envisioned for Bermuda. Guidance notes contain general principles to assist in the implementation of Plan policies.

Guidelines are a complementary tool to assist users as to what is appropriate or compatible in the Town of St. George Historic Protection Area and for listed buildings within that Area. They are a framework for decision-making amongst property owners, agents, and the Development Applications Board. There are based on the recognition and respect for:

  • The setting, views, and vistas that provide visual context of the St. George townscape
  • The forms and features that give the Town of St. George its unique sense of place, identity, and continuity
  • The essential character of each individual existing building

The accommodation of new development that integrates well into the historic setting and the specific site in which it is to be located

2. The Statutory Framework

Development in the Town of St. George is governed by the Development and Planning Act 1974 and the Bermuda Plan 2018. Sections 30 and 31 of the Act give the statutory provisions for designation of buildings and historic protection areas.

Where it applies to a specific area within the historic protection area of the historic town development in the Town of St. George is also governed by the Town of St. George (Protection of Places of Special Interest) Act 1950. All development within the Town of St. George Preservation Area, whose boundary is located within the Historic Protection Area is subject to this legislation.

Development also includes the installation of signs on buildings, and the Advertisement Regulations Act 1911 stipulates the nature and content of all such signs. General guidelines on signs in the Town of St. George Historic Protection Area are contained in this document.

These guidance notes are pursuant to the Bermuda Plan 2018, particularly Chapter 9 (Design) including the objectives, DSN. 2 (Design Statement) and DSN. 3 (Bermuda Image), Chapter 21 (Agricultural Reserve), particularly HSC. 6 (Historic Protection Areas), HSC. 7 (Town of St. George Historic Protection Area), HSC. 11 (World Heritage Site), HSC. 12 and HSC. 13 (Sites of Archaeological Significance), Chapter 27 (Residential) particularly RSD. 17 and RSD. 18 (Special Provisions for the Town of St. George) and Chapter 31 (Mixed Use), particularly MXD. 8 (Town of St. George).

4. Related Guidance Notes

In addition to statutory instruments, reference should also be made to Development Control Guidance Notes: GN203 Listed Buildings Restoration. This document provides guidance on procedure for planning applications and what is considered appropriate in the way of external alteration to buildings. Guidance on the grades is also included and there is information on typical features of buildings.

Of particular importance in these related guidance notes are the, ‘Guiding Principles for Treatment of Historic Buildings.’ These principles are derived from UNESCO-approved charters as well as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for appropriate heritage conservation. As a tool in design, they represent the preferred approach to maintaining, repairing and replacing historic materials as well as designing new additions and making alterations:

  • Wherever possible, a historic building should be used as it was historically, or be given a new use that requires minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships. 
  • The special architectural or historic character of a historic building should be retained about preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces and spatial relationships that characterize a property is discouraged.
  • Each historic building represents a physical record of its time, place and use and therefore any changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties, are discouraged
  • Changes to a historic building that has acquired special architectural or historic significance in its own right should be treated as part of the special character of the building and, where possible, be retained and preserved
  • Deteriorated historic features should be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature should match the old in design, colour texture, and where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features should be substantiated by documentary and physical evidence.
  • Deteriorated historic features should be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature should match the old in design, colour, texture and where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features should be substantiated by documentary and physical evidence.
  • Archaeological resources should be protected and preserved in place. (Note: The Development Applications Board may require the undertaking of a preliminary Archaeological Assessment for any proposal impacting a Listed Building or Historic Protection Area, as referenced in the Bermuda Plan 2018, HSC. 18 (Site of Archaeological Significance). Refer to Guidance Note GN119 for more information.
  • New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction should not destroy historic materials, features and spatial relationships that characterize the Listed Building. The new work should be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment

New additions and adjacent or related new construction should be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the Listed Building and its environment would be unimpaired

5. Character Statement

The Character Statement for the Town of St. George Historic Protection Area, which is at the core of the World Heritage Site, is a formal statement of specific character of the area that is the physical attributes that belong uniquely to the Town of St. George which, when taken together, constitute a distinct urban environment. The statement presents an overall picture of this distinctiveness, and provides a contextual point of reference for future development.

5.1 Description

The Town of St. George Historic Protection Area comprises an assemblage of buildings, spaces and streets in the town centre. Among the commercial, residential and institutional masonry buildings within its distinctive street pattern, are several landmarks of national historical significance to Bermuda, including St. Peter’s Church and the State House. The town retains much of its early street plan and many of its masonry buildings and is a living town as opposed to a rebuilt one. Thus, the Town of St. George illustrates the early stages of 17th and 18th century English expansion throughout the world.

5.2 Character Defining Elements

(a) A placid waterfront accepting cruise and recreational vessels, containing a central island linked to the mainland by a bridge;

(b) Predominantly two-storey structures rising uphill from the waterfront, having consistent form and materials;

(c) Narrow streets and alleyways in a haphazard pattern, bordered by perimeter masonry walls, often rendered and painted;

(d) Ordered main civic spaces including a principal town square, other hard-surface public spaces and manicured park spaces;

(e) A waterfront defining south edge that is, in places, conducive to public access and activity;

(f) A well-documented collection of historic buildings and monuments, many listed, including a number of landmarks significant to Bermuda, with traditional materials and detailing including (but not limited to) Flemish gables, exposed rafter feet, pitched Bermuda slate roofs, chimneys and complex rain gutters, string courses, eyebrows, buttresses, welcoming arms steps and lateral steps, barrel vaulted water tanks, separate kitchens and outbuildings;

(g) Gates, statues, and commemorations;

(h) Small private open spaces, usually in the form of gardens;

(i) A programme of distinctive street surfacing and street lighting;

(j) A well-defined urban boundary with surroundings comprising tracts of green space, woodland, housing and former garrison buildings

6. Guidelines for Development

In the context of the Character Statement, and in conformance with Section HSC. 7 and HSC. 8 if the Bermuda Plan 2018, development including new buildings and additions to existing buildings should adhere to the following design considerations.

Objective: to maintain the existing street and lot composition of the Historic Town

New buildings should be placed on a lot in a manner that is contiguous to the street and neighbourhood composition and to which it will be visually related. Where all buildings generally abut roadways, such as in the commercial core, new building should be placed in a like manner. Where buildings are located within lots with front, side, or rear garden spaces with walls and gates, new buildings should be placed upon the lots (or set back) in a manner that permits the continuance of garden spaces with walls and gates.

Objective: to preserve the profile and silhouette of the Historic Town no development shall exceed three storeys. Any increase in height of an existing building should follow these criteria:

  • The exterior design of the addition should be compatible with the existing building;
  • the structural requirements of the addition should not involve the removal of character‐defining features of the building;
  • the addition should not block significant views or affect the character of any abutting space in the public realm 

The appropriate height of a new building depends on the height of the neighbouring buildings. Generally it should be similar to the heights of surrounding development. Projections such as towers and steeples may exceed the three-storey limit provided that their mass is vertical in orientation and they do not block important views. There is no minimum height ascribed to the Historic Town.

Objective: To reinforce the prevailing bulk and massing of buildings within the Historic Town 

The Town of St. George Historic Protection Area is characterized by two and three storey buildings on small lots, located within a random street pattern marked by boundary walls and gates. Its commercial core is of the same height but greater density and more inclination towards a continuous building form. Occasionally buildings or facilities traditionally related to the waterfront. Many early vernacular houses had an organic quality in their evolution, sometimes assuming a cruciform pattern, while later houses of the Georgian period adopted more formal, symmetrical massing.

New buildings should be designed in such a way that the essential bulk and massing characteristics within the neighbourhood are not adversely affected, and important view corridors are not lost. The break-up of large structures to allow for the articulation of mass, the use of multiple roofs, is encouraged. Additions to existing buildings should ensure that their massing characteristics are retained. Furthermore, additions to an existing building should be offset from the building and not dominate it through its bulk or height.

Objective: to maintain a human scale and to ensure a harmonious composition of buildings, including an overall streetscape rhythm

All buildings in the Town of St. George Historic Protection Area, even the larger religious, educational or industrial buildings, present a human or pedestrian scale, that is, the buildings form and features are sized to human dimensions. From the point of view of the front elevation, there is a length-to-width ratio for most building masses that favours the horizontal (three to five units on the horizontal to two units on the vertical), while openings and voids and predominantly vertical in their orientation. There are some exceptions in form, and many shop-front windows are specifically designed for display purposes. New buildings and additions to existing buildings should be designed to respect prevailing proportion so as to retain a sense of unity and harmony in the streetscape.

Objective: To preserve the profile and silhouette of the Historic Town

With the exception of several religious buildings where steep roof pitches can exist, roof pitches in the Town average between 40° and 50° and generally are gabled or hipped. In several instances gable roofs are of Flemish style. It is important to retain and preserve roofs including their functional and decorative features, and to ensure in any new design, the roof shape, pitch and details conform to those belonging to the Town’s traditional building types. Varying the roof shape (e.g. gable and hip) within the same building, or varying roof details within the same building, should be avoided.

Objective: To maintain the traditional image of the Historic Town

The vast majority of buildings, walls and gates in the Historic Town are constructed of Bermuda stone or concrete block, both of which are normally plastered or rendered. Exposed wood is found in rafter feet, verandahs, garden gates, trellises, window frames, shutters and blinds. Brick is a unique material as applied to the Carriage House on Water Street and in exterior stairs. New buildings and additions to existing buildings should recognize and respect these traditional materials. Non-traditional materials such as cast concrete, quality metals and synthetics are appropriate in the Historic Town only for new buildings, provided that they are compatible with traditional materials.

Objective: To maintain a harmonious pattern of solids and voids in the Historic Town

Traditional windows in Bermuda and in the Historic Town are vertical in orientation, with overall openings in domestic buildings of about 2’7” x 4’2”. Individual glass panes, usually either six-over-six lights or two-over-two lights in a sash format, are also vertical in orientation and measure about 9” x 11”. Larger window openings are common for shop-fronts, and there are many unique window types in garrison and church buildings. Traditional windows are wood-frame. Care should be taken in any development of an existing building to retain the window opening size, window type, window materials, and any special features such as arched panes, lintels, eyebrows and surrounds. Existing vertically proportioned windows should not be replaced by horizontally-proportioned windows, and the individual lights should retain their vertical orientation. Non-traditional materials (e.g. PVC, aluminium, or composite materials) should not be employed on existing buildings for windows, blinds and shutters. The design of new buildings should give careful consideration to the pattern of fenestration in the neighbourhood or streetscape to which it is visually related. Non-traditional materials may be used for windows in new buildings, provided that they are compatible with traditional materials in appearance. The Bermuda Plan 2018 prohibits the use of reflective glass in all instances.

Doors in older buildings are either plank or panel in variety. Development of existing buildings should employ similar materials and details, respecting in all cases the integrity of doorway composition including transom and side lights, and trim. The design of new buildings should respect the pattern and rhythm of door openings in the streetscape or neighbourhood. Non-traditional materials may be used for doors in new buildings, provided that they are compatible with traditional materials in appearance.

Objective: To encourage the retention of character-defining features and ensure that new development preserves and enhances features and detailing in the Historic Town

Existing buildings in the Historic Town contain many features and decorative details that define their character: welcoming arms and lateral steps, verandahs, corner pilasters and quoins, string courses, dentils, eyebrows, and keystones. Development of existing buildings should preserve and enhance these character-defining features, but care should be taken not to vary the design of such features in the same building.

New buildings should have a level of surface texture and detailing comparable to existing buildings within the streetscape or neighbourhood to which they are visually related, and contain similar balance between surface and window area. However, care should be taken not to apply historical detailing or a patina to new buildings as this presents a false sense of historical development that is inappropriate in otherwise authentic historic districts.

Objective: To encourage a consistent and harmonious exterior colour palette in the Historic Town

Colour is not regulated in the Bermuda Plan 2018 although it is policy that a colour that significantly differs from the traditional palette of Bermuda colours may require a planning application. The traditional palette consists of white and off-white, and warm, pastel variations of yellow, orange, green, pink, blue, brown, ochre and grey. Dark tones in red and green also appear. Window, door, corner and buttress trim are generally black, white or dark green black, and may be paired with a compatible colour for rafter feet and window blinds. The treatment of new buildings in a similar fashion is encouraged.

Objective: To minimize the visual impact of air conditioning, vents, exhaust fans, skylights, solar panels, wind turbines, satellite dishes, electrical/telephone/cable hook-ups, and other contemporary elements

It is recognized that in order to encourage continued use of buildings, modern services are required. The key is to ensure that the adaptation of buildings does not affect their character and does not impinge upon the Town’s character-defining features. Where possible, contemporary service units should be located away from buildings in a location on the property that does not detract from the character of neighbouring buildings. If contemporary elements must be fitted to the building, they should be located away from public view, for example on a rear-facing elevation.

Objective: To encourage compatible sign types and styles, ensure visual coherence of streetscapes, and avoid visual clutter.

The Advertisements Regulations Act 1911 gives the restrictions on signs. This information is summarized in Guidance Note: GN409 – A Guide to Advertisement Signs & Announcements. Essentially, a sign may announce the name of a business or institution, and the height and width of lettering may not exceed 15 inches. Signs may not be visible above the roof-line or sky-line, may not be flashing or illuminated from within the sign assembly, and may not contain the National Flag, brand names or logos.

Appropriate sign types include wall signs (traditional sign boards and wall-mounted plaques or markers), projecting (bracketed) signs, free-standing signs (placed on a lot or public right-of-way and supported by a pole or poles, or constructed of stone), hanging signs (as from the eaves of a veranda), etched, painted or gilded window signs, and awning signs. Generally, signs should be compatible with the purpose, size and design of the building or place to which they visually relate. Maximum sign face area should be proportional to the building and should not dominate the building face. No more than one advertising sign per façade should be applied and buildings should never be over-signed. Signs should not be visible above the roofline or skyline of any property, and should not obscure traffic warning signs.

The design of signs should follow these parameters:

(a) Flat or projecting signs should be located on unadorned surfaces if mounted to the building or, if freestanding, should not hinder the relationship of the building to its associated landscape. Signs should not be fixed to a veranda railing.

(b) The material for sign bands, sign boards, or projecting signs should be of wood or wood-like material. Other materials such as metal and plastic may be used provided their design does not detract from the building’s essential character.

(c) The shape of signs should complement and not detract from the building’s essential character;

(d) Sign lettering should be of a style, usually a block or serif style, which reflects or is in sympathy with the building period. Lettering and letter height should be directed to the pedestrian, not the motorist. Decorative borders are appropriate.

(e) Window signs may be etched, painted or gilded on the glass. Signs should not cover large areas of glass.

(f) If projecting, signs should be supported by brackets of traditional metal (wrought iron, copper, tin, etc.) or wood. Their placement should not hinder pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

(g) Menu signs (a menu in a lit or unlit wooden box) are appropriate provided they do not dominate the façade of a building;

(h) Sandwich board signs should not cause undue obstruction to passers-by;

(i) Awning signs (lettering applied directly to an awning) should employ the traditional three-point (triangular) awning style.

(j) Lighting of signs should not dominate the sign assembly or be so obtrusive as to be a hazard to traffic. Neon or back-lit box signs are prohibited.

(k) Way-finding and interpretative signs should follow a uniform pattern in terms of materials, structure and layout.

(l) Gateway signs should utilize a standard visual identity and be of similar materials throughout.

(m) Horizontal and vertical banner signs should be time-limited, that is, for the advertisement of special events only, and should not obscure important features of buildings or streetscapes.

Objective: To enhance the business core as a lively, continuous shopping precinct

Visual stimulation in the commercial core is aided by new street surfacing, themed lighting, and other street furnishings. However, buildings in the business core should express streetscape continuity with shop-fronts facing onto main thoroughfares. Blank walls without public entrances should be avoided. Lighting of shop-fronts and display windows is encouraged, but lighting fixtures should not dominate the façade and the lighting colour should be of the incandescent spectrum and not overly intense.

Objective: To provide attractive and appropriate amenities for users, and to enhance the image of the Historic Town

The public realm is the public “living room” of a community. Street and open-space furnishings are an important part of the ambience of an historic place.  When they are of high quality and installed with attention to fit and comfort, they provide a stronger sense of place, encourage socialization and promote respect for private property. Quality improvements to the public realm can also trigger improvements to private property. The following parameters should be observed when selecting and installing street furniture:

(a) Design should strengthen the community’s character, recognizing its history and pattern of development over time, and not dominate or detract from it.

(b) Design should meet the community’s needs in terms of pedestrian access, traffic circulation, safety, and ease of maintenance.

(c) Traditional materials should be employed. Where materials are not traditional, for example aggregate pavers in place of stone, or cast aluminium in place of cast iron, materials should be similar in appearance to traditional materials.

(d) Where possible, furnishings manufactured or crafted locally should be employed, provided the design is appropriate to the setting. Uniquely crafted furnishings enhance the distinctiveness of a place.

(e) Where feasible, elements such as seating, trash receptacles and public telephones should be grouped together, to promote respectful use and socialization.

6.13.1        Street surface

Though not historically “correct” in the Town of St. George, special street surfacing adds texture and warmth to the setting. Materials can be used in combinations that help define a space, such as a street or square, or mark areas for pedestrian priority, traffic calming, or walking.    Materials should be selected that are non-slip, enable movement by the physically-challenged, facilitate drainage, and harmonize with adjacent buildings in terms of colour, shape, size, and texture. The use of too many varieties of paving surfaces within a single setting or street frontage should be avoided. 

6.13.2      Seating

Seating can be achieved using benches, low perimeter walls, and stone planters.  Bench seating should be durable and commodious, and ideally capable of arranging so that users may socialize.

6.13.3        Trash containers

Receptacles for trash should be generally compatible with light standards and benches in appearance.

6.13.4        Light standards        

Lighting standards should be oriented to the pedestrian to provide a slower rhythm and “pace” to streets and public spaces.  Wherever possible, the design of light standards should be based on historical documentation.  Though many reproduction products are available, only those that are very similar to original lighting standards should be used.  Lighting colour should be of the incandescent spectrum.  Where feasible, lighting standards should be capable of accepting banners (for celebration) or hanging planters for street decoration.

6.13.5        Utility poles

Where possible, utility poles should be located so as not to obscure building facades or cause undue clutter within streetscapes. 

6.13.6        Vegetation

Trees should be selected to provide shade where needed while helping to define, or create a sense of enclosure to, selected spaces and streets, for example at traffic “choker” points, at the borders of open spaces, and at selected points on a street where feasible.   In-ground garden spaces and planters provide welcome visual relief from hard-surfaced areas and can also provide a visual edge to public space. Grassed or semi-grassed surfaces may be applied where a transition from hard to soft landscaping is desired. 

6.13.7        Bollards    

Bollards intended to restrict vehicular access should be durable enough to resist vehicular damage, with a width and height suitable to enable double-duty as incidental seating. 

6.13.8        Public art

Murals on public or private buildings, three-dimensional art or sculpture in public places, and specially fabricated streetscape elements can act as positive visual and social enhancements which may reflect a local theme, tell an important story, or express a point of view.  Public art should act in support of the area’s historic character, not detract from it.  In all cases, it should not obscure a building’s character-defining features, heavily alter the ambience of a public place, and block important views and vistas

7.0 Related Reading

(a) Historic Town of St. George and Related Fortifications Management Plan, 2014 – provides broad goals and objectives for the World Heritage Site

(b) The Traditional Building Guide, 2002 – Bermuda National Trust / Department of Planning document provides detailed technical advice on traditional construction and domestic building styles.

(c) Bermuda’s Architectural Heritage: St. George’s, 1998 – Bermuda National Trust publication provides important historical context and details of the evolution of many buildings.

(d) Heritage Plan – “Bringing History to Life”, 1995 – Design scheme for the Corporation of St. George provides a contextual framework for design of the public realm including streetscapes

Letters of objection and/or representation should be emailed to planningfrontdesk@gov.bm referencing the PLAN or SUB number in the subject line.

Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building, 5th Floor, 58 Court Street Hamilton, HM12, Bermuda

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