Viva Viviana

Viviana Jenik

For those that had the distinct pleasure of knowing Viviana Jenik, they’ve happily attested to her vibrant, energetic character; an individual who loved to entertain and had an amazingly varied range of friends.

Viviana, grandson Jude, and daughter Paloma

Sadly, on Monday January 15, 2018, the Virgin Islands saw the loss of this talented architect, whose work on these islands is a living memory of her creativity and dedication to her craft.

Older brother Armando, daughter Paloma, Viviana, and younger brother Mariano

Viviana passed away at the age of 69 years after losing her battle with Lewy Body Dementia; she was living in Chicago, Illinois at the time owing to 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

Speaking to her older brother Armando Jenik, and son and daughter—Piers and Paloma—they relayed their feelings about their late relative as an individual who’d evidently touched many people worldwide.

She had a vast range of friendships; a testament to her curiosity in people and her love for travelling. Her lively personality was realised in her architectural work that tells a story through her unique style.

Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, “[Viviana] went to places like India and Cuba, and all over Europe as well as the US…and many trips back to Argentina,” said Paloma of her mother’s travels. “She loved NYC and spent a lot of time there in museums and attending operas…She collected artefacts from around the world, especially fabrics and jewellery.”

Seamlessly, it’s the combination of Viviana’s disposition and the inspiration she relished from travelling, that created the architectural marvels we see here in the Virgin Islands.

Travel-Inspired Architecture

Viviana’s career in architecture grew in the early years of the millennium.

From her travels, she was stimulated by what she saw abroad, influencing her own home which was a plethora of international artwork, fabrics, and furniture.

Her specific architectural quality became known by the way she integrated the encompassing landscape with her design.

“Mum liked her houses to blend with their natural surroundings; she loved lots of trees and boulders to be included and tried to clear sites as little as she could…” said Paloma. “Also, her homes had very high ceilings—that was a signature for sure.

“She always said that ‘when you walked through the front door, you should have a view,’” continued Paloma, explaining that sight-line was very important for Viviana. “She was also practical and very good at utilising smaller spaces. She…blasted opera music while she drew, [and] drew by hand. She walked her sites a lot and early on got used to being one of the few women on construction sites in the BVI.”

Son Piers added to this quirk of Viviana’s to be present on construction sites, saying “She…was hugely respected by all the work men. It was actually pretty interesting to see someone of mum’s size walking around the sites and conversing with all the construction workers. She was short, but full of spirit and sass.”

Viviana’s houses are easy to recognise because they’re designed and built around the site. Using every part of the environment to add unique touches to the property that can only be found at that specific location, the properties express vitality. The view from the property as well as the flow of indoors to outdoors is fluid and her style often blends tropical with Asian.

“She loved the open plan designs that allowed Mother Nature to…complete the houses,” said Piers.

Some recognisable architectural feats of beauty credited to the artistic architect are Wali Nikiti, CocoMaya, and Turpentine House.

Designing Wali Nikiti

Chef Davide Pugliese’s beautiful home Wali Nikiti on Scrub Island is known for its hospitable experience where guests can stay, enjoy exquisite food, and learn the culinary expertise of the renowned chef himself. But arguably, this entire respite may never have come to ‘be’ without Viviana’s friendship and architectural finesse.

“I met Viviana in 1984 in New York City…[and]…what struck me first was how passionate she was about living in the islands and…how passionate she was about her creativity in general,” said Davide. The chef had studied art and found a kindred spirit in Viviana with conversations flowing about the nature of artistic design.

“She was the person who introduced me to the British Virgin Islands…Working with her started very casual…we came across Scrub Island…When we [I and my wife] showed her the property we planned to buy, she was blown away by the nature and started laying down ideas—how to preserve this beauty and how to work with something that is natural and organic within the property.

“The beauty of this was there was no modern technology then; it was pure hand drawings and everything she did was by hand…she presented these beautiful painted sketches of the house…it was amazing.”

Viviana was seen to inspire her friends with her knack for presenting a story within her architecture.

“What I loved about her designs was the simplicity,” said Davide. “Everything in her own home had a story. It was an inspiration for us to surround ourselves with things that had a meaning or a history. What we liked and had in common was a passion for what was natural—wood, stone, marbles, elements of nature—and this was part of the selection on how to build Wali Nikiti.

“I was always amazed by her creativity and that’s one of the reasons we remained very good friends for a long, long time.”

Creating CocoMaya

Aaron Seddon, owner of Virgin Gorda’s Cocomaya worked with Viviana to create the exquisite restaurant experience many residents and visitors have come to adore.

“We first met Viviana at the Dove restaurant,” said Aaron. “Paloma introduced us and from there we were introduced to Paolo Santana and the TRS build team. Viviana was a gracious, fun-loving, and social lady. She loved bringing people together to collaborate.

“I remember having a broken leg at the time of the planning of CocoMaya and Viviana would collect me—on crutches—from the Speedy’s dock and drive me all over Tortola to previous design projects, showing me different aspects of each design that may be of interest to us with CocoMaya. Everyone welcomed Vivi with open arms. She was fun to be around and to work with.”

Keeping in line with a very particular shape, specific ideas, distinct style, and approximate square footage that Aaron desired, Viviana embraced his concept for what would become a landmark establishment for Virgin Islands’ residents and holiday-makers.

“[Vivi] really loved the notion of bringing the natural beauty of the surroundings into the design and having the two work harmoniously together,” said Aaron. “She was brilliant at translating our vision into architecturally functional detail.”

In relation to Viviana’s style, “simplicity,” said Aaron was one of her main disciplines. “Viviana had the restraint not to ‘over design’ a space. She helped us polish the details, [and] lose the unnecessary.”

Fashioning Turpentine House

Turpentine House, owned by Serena and Diego Cinelli, is another known feature residence in the British Virgin Islands.

Located at the very top of Havers Hill in Tortola, this home is identified as one of Viviana’s favourite creations. “When we met Viviana, we knew immediately that she was the right person to start the project of our new home,” said the couple. “She had this quality of imagining every house not like a ‘building’ but like a home she would have liked living in.”

Viviana showed a sincere and intuitive understanding of what her innovative, European clients wanted from their new residence.

“It was fun working with her in the office by her house, surrounded by trees and the beautiful dogs that followed her everywhere,” said Serena. “A house that she opened to us like we were part of the family and for which we will always be grateful…Her most precious contribution to the project—besides her obvious skills as an architect—was her experience of a lifetime spent living on the island.

“She had this special view of how the spaces would better flow in the house and a love for natural elements such as wood and stone, and the indisputable capacity for designing…warm and elegant homes.”

Reviewing the beautiful Turpentine House, Viviana’s traits were naturally reflected in the appearance of the incredible home.

Viviana’s Legend Lives

There is no doubt that from these few testimonials alone, Viviana was not only a great architect to those that had the pleasure of her company, but a fierce friend and relative as well.

“Mum, Viviana, was an amazing person who was always smiling,” said Piers. “She was very dedicated to her work and loved designing everything from houses to fabrics, to t-shirts. She had a very eccentric style that was known to most of the island as everyone would always buy exotic jewellery…from her shop Zenaida. [She is greatly missed by all of us].”

Cocomaya photography by Connie Zhou

Turpentine House photography courtesy of Smiths Gore

Wali Nikiti photography by William Torrillo

Stephen Leslie France, Editor
Hailing from London, UK, Stephen graduated with a BA English Literature degree at the University of Southampton in 2007. He works as a freelance editor and can be found here: https://stephenlesliefrance.com/
Stephen Leslie France, Editor
Stephen Leslie France, Editor

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