Bridge Studio

Bridge Studio

Architect
Saunders Architecture
Location
Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
Project Year
2011
Category
Individual Buildings
Bent René Synnevåg and Nick Herder

Bridge Studio

Saunders Architecture as Architects

Fogo Island, located about twelve miles off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada, supports a population of twenty-five hundred people. This raw yet poetic place, at its most dramatic appears as a barren, wild and windswept landscape, comprised of stark boulders that sit on extensive outcroppings of granite bedrock that rise above Fogo Island’s thin layer of soil and lichens. It is a place of stun- ning beauty and the setting for an exciting sociological and economic experiment in which architecture, as a vital component within the fabrication of culture and the identity of a place, plays a central role.


Long ago, people came to this island in the Labrador Current for fish, seals, birds and berries, and while these reasons continue to be essential, they are not suffi- cient. The hearty and industrious residents of Fogo Island have been finding ways to stay shorefast to their island home for centuries. However, in the last several decades, the people of Fogo Island have seen their traditional way of life been challenged by a diminished cod fishery and lack of financial investment to sustain the local economy.


Social Entrepreneurship, Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Arts Corporation As an essential component of any inspiring architectural project is an inspired client, in this case, Zita Cobb, a native of Fogo Island and a successful entrepre- neur. In 2001, with the goal of contributing to cultural resiliency for Fogo Island, Zita, together with her brother Tony Cobb, created the Shorefast Foundation, a Canadian registered charity (http://www.shorefast.org). As a general premise, Shorefast’s projects match a respect of place with an innovative entrepreneurial spirit to create a future for Fogo Island built on the past, “...weaving the new from what was and what is.”


Using a social entrepreneurship model, Shorefast works with the people of the island to help grow the local economy. This model is based on the belief that economy must be a servant of society and culture – not the master. Art, and the artistic process, are at the core of every Shorefast project. As a testament to this commitment, the Fogo Island Arts Corporation was established and operates in a symbiotic relationship with Shorefast. The Fogo Island Arts Corporation is composed of two intertwined strands – a Residency Program and a Production Program, both of which have attracted the attention of artists worldwide. (http:// artscorpfogoisland.ca).


The Fogo Island Arts Corporation seeks out, initiates, develops and directs a spectrum of collaborative, interdependent projects which draw together visiting and local artists, local people and ‘strangers’, island-based and foreign entrepre- neurs, local fishermen and environmentalists; making use of Arts Corporation’s assets, including its studios, project spaces and diverse staff.


As indicated in Cobb’s original plan, the Fogo Island Arts Corporation Residency Program has already attracted the attention of artists worldwide; it is the hope that the international visibility derived from the program will bring visitors from around the globe and establish a geo-tourism destination that, in turn, will cre- ate jobs for the local population and bolster the island’s economy. The Shorefast Foundation’s philosophy is centered on the belief that a community’s capacity for cultural resilience depends on an unmediated relationship with its markets, and a tenacious and profound connection to the identity and history of the place.


Ms. Cobb, who made her fortune in fiber optic technology, has invested to date, fifteen million dollars in the project that embraces and propagates the principles of social entrepreneurship. Her investment is matched by two contributions of five million dollars from the Canadian Federal Government and the Provincial Govern- ment of Newfoundland and Labrador.


With a total budget of twenty-five million dollars, the project’s objective is to nurture an innovative and an entrepreneurial spirit in order to create a series of sustainable businesses founded upon the rich histories and the inherent potential of Fogo Island and neighboring Change Islands. These businesses will help diver- sify the local economies and create a geo-tourism destination for travelers who are attracted and inspired by the qualities of an exotic place that lies at the edge of the North American continent. Restoration of Local Historic Building and the Contemporary Architecture of The Fogo Island Inn A central project for the Shorefast Foundation is the restoration of a number of historic buildings in the community of Barr’d Islands. Local carpenters have ex- tensively renovated and re-clad the three buildings that were once a central part of the Fogo Island Community; St John the Evangelist Anglican Church, the local Fisherman’s Hall and the local Orange Lodge. As a commitment to the vernacular way of building, one-third of the funds spent to date by the Shorefast Foundation, have been dedicated to the improvement and restoration of a number of ‘saltbox’ houses, deconsecrated churches and other local buildings on the island. Not only has the restoration rescued a series of dilapidated buildings, it has also honed the skill set of local builders and resurrected an appreciation of a vernacular way of building.


These restored buildings will house new Shorefast initiatives. The Church will host local theatre productions and art exhibitions and the Fisherman’s Hall will be the new home of a state of the art wood shop, that will produce a line of locally inspired furniture, designed by a roster of young designers from London to Montreal and beyond. These three historic buildings form a gateway to one of the projects of the Shorefast Foundation, the Fogo Island Inn, a world class, twenty- nine-room inn, designed by Saunders Architecture (http://www.saunders.no), founded by Todd Saunders, a native Newfoundlander, who has been based in the coastal city of Bergen, Norway since 1996.


The angular and resolutely contemporary architecture of the Inn stands as an important counterpoint to the neighbouring historic buildings – the Church, the Hall and the Lodge. Through the design of both the Inn and the new art studios, Shorefast demonstrates its belief in the transformative power of contemporary architectural design to re-frame and re-situate local culture. As Zita Cobb, has pointed out, the old and new give meaning to each other. This trinity of restored buildings provides an anchor to the past and a gateway to the future. The key to a vibrant cultural identity is to build a future that maintains a connection with history – a dynamic present created with one arm reaching to the past the other arm directed to the future.


Currently, the Fogo Island Inn, that is scheduled to open in Summer 2012, is under construction. Its basic massing consists of two intersecting rectangular forms; the lower volume that stretches from east to west, houses the entry and lobby area, a restaurant that will feature local organic fare, a contemporary art gallery, conference rooms and an e-cinema (in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada). These amenities, which also include the Dr. Leslie Harris Heritage Library, will be offered not only to the guests of the Inn but also to the local resi- dents and the general public. Dr. Harris, a well-known Canadian academic, was a former president of the Memorial University of Newfoundland.


The upper rectangular section of the Fogo Island Inn sits thirty degrees relative to its base and extends sixty feet towards the northeast over the site’s rocky ter- rain. It is supported by a forest of thirty-foot (ten meter) high columns that echo the stilts once used in the construction of cod-drying flakes and fishing stages typical in many Newfoundland outports. The upper volume of the Inn contains twenty-nine well-appointed suites that feature locally inspired, custom designed furniture, and panoramic ocean views. A therapeutic Nothern European-style sauna will offer a rooftop retreat with three hundred and sixty degree views of the island and the North Atlantic. Sami Rintala, a Finnish architect living in Nor- way, designed the sauna’s interiors.


In the long term, the Fogo Island Inn will be not only be a central feature of the island’s geo-tourism industry, it will also be an important component of the economic engine that will generate jobs and capital for local community. As Zita Cobb points out, any surpluses of the Inn will stay in the local community. In this way, the Shorefast Foundation, as an example of social entrepreneurship, will continue to provide funds to sustain the community in decades to come. In this way, the nurturing of culture and place go together to create an opportunity for local residents to make a living – a welcome alternative to the seasonal jobs, currently offered, on the mainland of Canada. In the long run, The Fogo Island Inn and its offshoots will help further diversify the economy, beyond the local cod fishery, and thus bolster the cultural resilience of the Fogo Island community.


Six Studios for The Fogo Island Arts Corporation Residency Program Instead of a single design, six remote sites scattered across the Fogo Island were chosen to host a portion of the art centre’s programs. The six studios for artists and writers in residence range in size from two hundred square feet to twelve hundred square feet (twenty to two hundred square meters). The siting of the studios on a series of locations around Fogo Island, allows the artists to live with- in the various communities and interact, on a daily basis, with the local residents. The first of these studios, the Long Studio, was completed in June 2010. The Bridge Studio, Tower Studio and Squish Studio were officially opened in June 2011. Short Studio and Fogo Studio have been designed and will be completed


in 2012. The proportions of each studio are linear, and project their occupant to- wards the Atlantic Ocean via an obliquely slanted, full-height window that frames the horizon or the shoreline, depending on one’s position within the building. In all six studios, the intent was to sample and allude to local construction techniques: the spruce wood shell that cites the clapboard of the “outports”, or local fishermen’s houses; the stilt construction of Newfoundland’s waterfront fishing sheds; the proportions of the volumes and skewed frames, particularly in the case of the smaller studios.


All six studios are one hundred per cent off the grid with no connection to pub- lic services. In the Long Studio, all heat is produced from solar panels on the roof and a small wood stove, rainwater is collected from the roof and stored in tanks in the concealed storage rooms to provide water for the shower and small kitchen. In addition, a compost toilet is installed and all excessive grey water is treated inside of the building. All six studios are autonomous – they do not rely on municipal water supply, sewer, natural gas, electrical power grid or similar utility services. In addition, to the building systems, the environmental impact of the construction was minimized by the use of local materials, which were largely transported to remote building sites by hand.


Text: Michael Carroll


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