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Fogo Island Studios, Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada

Wednesday 06 Jul 2011

Art on the rocks

image © Bent René Synnevåg 
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Saunders Architecture presents a series of unusual art studios on Fogo Island 

Fogo Island, population 2,500, lies about 20 km northeast of the island of Newfoundland and is home to a gentle, independent people who have lived for centuries between wind and waves in pursuit of fish. The people are subtle and unpretentious yet have seen their traditional way of life in fishing threatened by forces largely beyond their control. 

In 2001 Zita Cobb, a native Newfoundlander and successful entrepreneur, devised a master plan. The creation of a foundation and the architectural infrastructure for an artist residency program, according to Cobb's plan, could attract well-known artists; the international visibility derived from the program would bring high-end tourists; tourism would create jobs, and the island's economy would rebound. It is a process Cobb refers to as ‘social entrepreneurship'.

Instead of a single design, six remote sites scattered across the island were chosen host a portion of the art centre's programs. This would allow the artists and its resident guests to exist as a capillary network tightly interwoven with the daily lives of the local community.

The chosen architect is Todd Saunders, a native Newfoundlander who has lived and worked in Norway since 1996. The initial assignment the architect received was to design six studios for artists and writers in residence, ranging in size from 20 sq m to 120 sq m.

The first of these studios, the Long Studio, was completed in June 2010, and another three were built in June 2011. The architects are now presenting three of the six studios for the WAN Awards 2011.

The location offers as spectacular a backdrop as any architect could wish for: as isolated promontory, where foaming breakers incessantly roll in from the Atlantic and crash thunderously on boulders just a stone's throw from the site. No road leads to the Long Studio - a ten-minute walk from the point where the nearest track ends ensures utter isolation, both physical and mental.

Isolation is offered a point of focus. The proportions of each studio are linear, and project their occupant towards the Atlantic 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 pile construction of Newfoundland's waterfront huts; the proportions of the volumes and skewed frames, particularly in the case of the smaller studios.

All six studios are 100% off-the-grid with no connection to public 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 impacts of construction were minimised by the use of all local materials which were, for the vast majority, carried to the sites by hand and foot.

Key Facts

Status 3 out 6 Completed
Value 0(m€)
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Saunders Architecture

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