Colossians 3:23 – “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”
This Scripture verse is what guides chief architect Maxine Fisher Casserly, the first woman to assume this position at the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). Having joined the organisation in 1994, she has worked on several planning and design projects across Jamaica, including the Downtown Kingston Redevelopment Project. “I was privileged to work on a myriad of project types, particularly in the public interest. It gave me special joy to know that what I was doing would ultimately benefit and safeguard the interests of the people of Jamaica.”
Her earliest memory of this love for architecture goes back to her days as a student of Immaculate Conception High School. “When I was in high school at Immaculate, one of my favourite activities was my father driving around Kingston and St Andrew, and we would just look at houses and other structures. Later, in New York City, I would often sit and enjoy observing how people used spaces. I was never quite sure I had the talent, but I knew I had the love, so I went with my heart.” Having her interest piqued in the field through quality time with her father, she went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Architecture Technology from the New York Institute of Technology and a Master of Architecture at the University of Technology. Chief architect Maxine also holds from the University of New Orleans.
She remembers well the evolution of the industry in Jamaica. “…When I started there was no architects registration in Jamaica, at least it was not mandated by law yet. But, although you may resist it initially after so many years of school, it’s worth going through the process. It finishes you off and gives you a better appreciation of your profession. It establishes a standard level of ability and sets you apart. Follow the process through, get registered and then participate to build and maintain the profession. It will be your lasting legacy.”
And while architecture can appear to be a male-dominated industry, she posited that “there are no more hindrances for women than any other field where men traditionally dominate”. She is pleased with the level of female representation in Jamaica and is hopeful for its future. “Women have a way of meeting or rising to the challenges that face them. Just on face value, female architects make up roughly 33 per cent of the list of registered architects for 2020; the president, vice-president and recording secretary for the Jamaica Institute of Architects are all female, and five persons out of the total nine of the executive committee are women. The head of the Caribbean School of Architecture of the University of Technology is a female architect. I would not be discouraged, but rather, continue to build.” She encourages young women who are interested in pursuing architecture as a career to go for it, but advises that it must be something that they are genuinely interested in. “It’s hard work, long hours, sometimes frustrating; but feeling that you make a difference, whether it be through design, development, or by using your expertise in review and or actively taking part in committees, is rewarding. And nothing beats the feeling of seeing your work realised.”
We asked her about her favourite things to design. Excitedly, she shared that she’s “totally enjoying the Jamaica Houses of Parliament Project review, and also the wider project and all its facets”. The UDC is leading the master planning of Jamaica’s Houses of Parliament and she plays an integral role in the process. Also a fan of renovations, she is particularly proud of her work restoring the Caymanas Golf Club. Designing public spaces, historic sites and places of worship are also some of her joys.
Casserly credits her unwavering faith in God for her successful journey in architecture. “God has blessed me and brought me this far; I am now chief architect of the UDC. I no longer work on specific projects as before; my job is more that of oversight, as I have competent seniors to do so. I am reminded of the account in John 21:15-17, where Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and he said to Peter, “then‘tend my sheep”. And so, in continued obedience and love, I am motivated to share all I have learnt to ensure that they develop as competent architects, putting the nation’s interests first and providing the best possible solutions.”