Apostrophes in the Landscape
Saunders Architecture: Bridge Studio, Deep Bay, Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
The ecology of remote and extreme places can often be summed up in the phrase ‘fragile beauty’. These are places where flora and fauna work hard to survive, and where the ecosystem is finely balanced. Fogo Island, off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, is a good example.
The island was historically a base for fishermen, who pushed out into the open waters of the Atlantic in search of cod. Today it is best known for its artists’ residency programme, supported by the Fogo Island Arts corporation, which is in turn funded by a foundation established by two entrepreneurs who grew up there.
An important element of the residency programme is the provision of six sculptural studios on different parts of the coast, designed by the architect Todd Saunders. Each was designed individually in response to the specific conditions of its site. But they do have elements in common: all are modest in scale, sensitive to the environment and self-sufficient. They play with ideas of elevation in various ways, providing lookout posts facing the water, while splicing contemporary sculptural forms with inspiration from vernacular fishermen’s huts and storage sheds. Together, they form a family of buildings that share a common language.
‘The studios are like apostrophes on the landscape, and they can be viewed either from a distance or close up and from many different angles, so it was really important that they weren’t all the same,’ says Saunders. ‘There are a lot of hiking trails on the island, and as you walk past the studios they seem to change in form and shape. They are extremely sculptural.’
Given the remote nature of the site, as well as of the island itself, the studios had to be fully off the grid; most are designed for daytime use, but sometimes in some of the six studios (where there’s enough space) artists have the option of staying the night. The building materials had to be light enough to be transported by hand, while the specification of insulation and glazing had to be high. Most of the studios are raised above the ground on piloti, not just to accentuate the views but also to avoid disturbing the plant life and lichens.
The Bridge Studio is in Deep Bay, in the west of the island. Projecting from a ridge that overlooks an inland pool, the studio forms a floating platform suspended in the landscape, with a compact, crafted living space culminating in a fitted desk before a picture window that overlooks the water. The studio is warmed by a wood-burning stove, and power is provided by a solar array nearby. The studio is paired with a restored saltbox house nearby that provides a composting toilet, fed by harvested rainwater.
All six studios are fully autonomous, as Saunders explains: ‘The whole idea was that these were such pristine sites that you couldn’t start digging into the ground for sewage pipes or dragging electricity lines out to them, which would be absurd. They feel new every time I visit, depending on the weather, the seasons, and who I am experiencing them with socially. When I am there in person they feel almost mystical.’