Doak exemplifies rich history in architecture

“Quick. Name a Cayman architect.” Fire this question at just about anyone in the Cayman Islands and, chances are, the response you get is, “John Doak”.  

Of course, Cayman boasts other accomplished architects, but Mr. Doak’s list of professional achievements supports the description, including his recently being awarded the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour. 

Coming from a family of artists, Mr. Doak was introduced to the arts and architecture from an early age. After almost seven years of studies in his hometown of Glasglow, Scotland, Mr. Doak received a call from Scottish architect John McCulloch, who recognised his surname. After a phone interview, Mr. McCulloch offered him a position to work in his Cayman Islands office.  

Fresh out of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at the University of Glasgow, Mr. Doak arrived in Grand Cayman in 1979. Here, he joined Onions Bouchard and McCulloch where he started as a junior architect. Mr. Doak’s creative energy quickly ignited the regional firm on the cusp of a major development boom that ran for two decades. 

His first completed building was a development for British American Insurance and housed First Home Bank, located on Jennet Street in George Town, which opened in 1981.  

The strong development market of the 1980s and 1990s gave Mr. Doak free rein to his architectural skill set and he found himself designing many of Cayman’s most notable buildings to date. Among them are the Harquail Theatre, Cayman National Bank on Elgin Avenue, UBS House, Genesis, Flagship Building, Port Authority of the Cayman Islands, Margaritaville, Ugland House, Strathvale House and Coutts. 

Mr. Doak was also architect for the renovations of Pedro St. James Castle and the Visitor Centre, as well as for the Old Courts House, now the National Museum, which received a Caribbean Preservation Award in 1990. 

Working with the firm also allowed him to design for clients across the Caribbean, including in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda, St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominican Republic and Cuba. 

However, Mr. Doak recognised the uniqueness of Cayman’s smaller and simpler buildings and thus began a life-long effort to describe, record and preserve what remained of them. 

In 2001, he started his own company, John Doak Architecture, in collaboration with his associate John Yeo. Since then, with projects including resort, commercial and residential interests, the firm has produced an extraordinary body of award-winning work and international recognition for their projects in the Cayman Islands and across the Caribbean. One that stands out, the “Seagrape House” received the Governor’s Award for Design and Construction Excellence in 2011. 

A quote by architect Charles Moore, inspired Mr. Doak’s approach to design in the Caribbean. 

“If architects are to do useful work on this planet then surely their proper concern must be the creation of place – the ordered imposition of man’s self on specific locations across the face of the Earth. To make a place is to make a domain that helps people know where they are and by extension know who they are.” 

Mr. Doak is married to wife Jackie. Together, the couple has four children, Jonathan, 32, and Jaime, 28, Cameron Claire, 10, and Jackson, 8. Mr. Doak is also a founding member of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands National Gallery, the Cayman Islands National Museum and also the National Cultural Foundation. He continues to support those organizations and participates at board or committee level and as a consultant.  

The years have by no means slowed him down. Today, Mr. Doak is as prolific as ever. Defying the recent economic downturn, John Doak Architecture has numerous major commissions on the drawing board, which seem to attract clients who want challenging, original architecture. 

As a primary focus, he intends to publish a personal project known as “Cayman Style”, which in its simplest description is a development history of the Cayman Islands.  

Otherwise, Mr. Doak will continue to enjoy his labour of love and appreciation for the Cayman Islands including his collection of manuscripts, drawings, sketches and photos undertaken during the last 30 years.