Fogo Island, Newfoundland

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I made my way to Fogo Island off the North coast of Newfoundland in Atlantic Canada this summer (celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow just beat me to it); here are some of my thoughts and photos from the trip.

This small Canadian island of 2,500 inhabitants is creating quite a stir the past few years. And much of the hoopla is around this stunning structure, built partly on stilts. The Fogo Island Inn was designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders. The five-star, 29-room, luxury ‘journey’s end’ has generated lots of jobs for locals and garnered international attention. It features a rooftop spa, library, high-end personal service, and luxe décor based on local traditions. Two words: book early.

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Behind a growing initiative to make Fogo a geotourism destination is Zita Cobb, a dot-com entrepreneur who retired early after making her fortune abroad and for the last decade has been dedicated to helping rebuild the island she left when she was 16. To encourage people to stay, she established the Shorefast Foundation – an organization committed to preserving the Islanders’ traditions and aims at rejuvenating the Island through the arts and culture.

Cobb is the client behind the now world-famous inn and a series of six artists’ studios (also by Saunders) scattered across the Island. These unique, self-sustaining, off-the-grid pavilions perched on the edge of the Atlantic provide visiting international writers and artists time and space to do their work.

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Residents are appreciative of the attention and the business, which has made a real difference to Fogo. It is helping to sustain, so far, a very particular and special social fabric. Frayed and weathered, it may be, but the colourful, vibrant and resilient communities of the Island continue to make their mark.

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Saunders Architecture has a portfolio of contemporary northern projects set against dramatic landscapes: simple villas and lookout points over Nordic fjords, e.g. Aurland Lookout. His work on Fogo is getting a lot of coverage: books, global film screenings, TEDx talks, and earning similar commissions, including new rural retreat homes in the western Canadian wilderness and seven small architectural ‘objects’ strung along a nature trail in Sweden. Perhaps for a next trek…

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The new app ‘DUET’ for the iPad features a 2 min video interview about what motivates Architect Todd Saunders and how it informs his design process:

A 1-minute teaser for the film: Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.

Newfoundland : small places and vacant spaces

newfoundland_scalvetNewfoundland is situated on Canada’s easternmost edge.

Affectionately known as ‘The Rock’, this coastal province is suffering Canada’s most severe fiscal and demographic crisis after some hard-hitting blows: a fishery collapse in the 90s, an oil-price slump and mounting debt. Dwindling populations are left in the small fishing outports that built it. The government of Newfoundland is seeking to close these places, rather than service them. It is offering cash incentives for people to abandon their homes. You can read about this here.

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But tourism has ramped up in the past few years, thanks in part to the Fogo Island Inn (more on that later) and to successful cinematic advertising campaigns beckoning travelers to make the trek. People are drawn to the capital’s (St. John) convivial folk music scene, to the villages’ vernacular architecture –in particular, the beautifully restored fishing rooms and saltbox houses, and to the province’s raw beauty: national parks, ecological reserves, ‘iceberg alley’, etc. Here are a few moments from my recent visit: 

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The New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant takes one back to the 1700s. Local actors and singers from the Rising Tide Theatre lead scores of visitors on a scenic walking tour of the Town of Trinity. Against the backdrop of historic merchant buildings, churches, and cemeteries they portray the daily lives, traditions, and hardships of their forefathers.

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Every summer and fall, the Town of Trinity’s Rising Tide Theatre presents a series of plays that reflect the history and culture of Newfoundland.

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Nestled on Northern Point is an otherwise unremarkable old twine shed named the “House of Commons” (aka Bill Piercey’s Store). But inside is a treasure trove of flotsam and jetsam of fishermen’s lives that speak to a time before the Internet. In this Dead Poets Society-like man cave, men young and old used to congregate on old chairs, tubs, and heaps of cod traps spinning yarns while the stove crackled. They discussed anything from water mains, hockey games, and everything a man may need for a fishing boat. It was also the setting for many heated debates over town matters or government affairs. The shed fell silent in 1986 when Uncle Bill Piercey passed away but you can almost hear their voices echo through the touching variety of artifacts lovingly left in place.

Intimate community places like this are hard to come by.

House of Common’s (Bill Piercey’s Store): “It is a place where men may meet, All through their weary lives; It’s a haven from the ocean, And a heaven from their wives.”

House of Commons (Bill Piercey’s store): “It is a place where men may meet, All through their weary lives; It’s a haven from the ocean, And a heaven from their wives.”

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Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2016 tourism advertising campaign included a television ad entitled Crayons.

The Drawings of Dame Zaha Hadid

One of the world’s most visionary architects died last week. She was only 65. Zaha Hadid’s structures are famous for their use of fragmented geometry, swooping gestures and futuristic style. Iraqi-born Hadid, who had a background in mathematics, studied at the Architectural Association in London. In 2004 she won architecture’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, becoming the first woman to receive the award (and Muslim, no less). She had a profound effect in our field, and opened so many doors for women in architecture. The world has lost one of its leading form makers.

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Aside from being a remarkable architect, Zaha Hadid was also a fashion, furniture and product designer. (Behind: Malevich’s Tektonik – her 4th-year student design project for a hotel on the Hungerford Bridge over the Thames)

Hadid drew on Russian Suprematism (think painter Kazimir Malevich) to create her own unique language of drawing, painting and building. Exhibitions of her drawings, paintings, reliefs, and installations have toured the world. Her intricate, abstract drawings were means of visualizing her architectural ideas.

The World (89 Degrees)

The World (89 Degrees)

Berlin: Blue Beam, Victoria City Aerial

Berlin: Blue Beam, Victoria City Aerial

Hong Kong: The Peak

Hong Kong: The Peak

Manhattan: A New Calligraphy of Plan

Manhattan: A New Calligraphy of Plan

Weil Am Rhein: Vitra Fire Station

Weil Am Rhein: Vitra Fire Station

Lebbeus Woods, an artist known for his unconventional architectural designs, and a kindred spirit no doubt, discussed Zaha Hadid’s drawings in his blog here.

Her striking and experimental designs were often dismissed as impractical, and at times even “impossible” to build. Until Hadid completed her first built work, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, in 1994, she was largely considered to be a paper architect. Since then, however, she has proven that her deconstructivist, largely column-free, designs work as buildings and not just as futuristic, theoretical concepts. Below are some of her projects that have been built around the world.

Vitra Fire Station. Photo by Wojtek Gurak.

Vitra Fire Station, Weil Am Rhein. Photo by Wojtek Gurak.

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

London Aquatics Centre: Olympics Swimming Venue, photo by Hufton+Crow

London Aquatics Centre: Olympics Swimming Venue, photo by Hufton+Crow

The Investcorp Building, University of Oxford. Photo by Luke Hayes.

The Investcorp Building, University of Oxford. Photo by Luke Hayes.

Messner Mountain Museum Corones, South Tyrol, Italy. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

Messner Mountain Museum Corones, South Tyrol, Italy. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Helene Binet.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Helene Binet.

MAXXI Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome

MAXXI Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome

Guangzhou Opera House. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Guangzhou Opera House. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Hadid's design for the 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar is currently under construction amid controversy concerning working conditions for labourers.

Hadid’s design for the 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar is currently under construction amid controversy concerning working conditions for labourers.

Vancouver and surroundings

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Surrey Public Library (left) and City Hall

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Surrey is an adjacent district of Vancouver. I visited its Civic Centre recently, which is part of a larger plan to use civic infrastructure as social space. Libraries are an interest of mine; in particular the changing role of libraries and different modalities of engagement within the library e.g. digital learning, makerspaces. [If you’re interested in reading more, you can find an article I wrote on the Toronto Reference Library on Canadian Architect]. The Surrey City Centre Library by Bing Thom Architects is conceived as a series of different height spaces organized around an upward winding central atrium. I like the “living room,” a casual double height reading area -complete with fireplace and rock-shaped soft seating-  next to sweeping windows overlooking a public plaza.

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Stanley Park is a 1000-acre urban park that borders downtown Vancouver. Still densely forested, its trails, beaches, lakes, and recreational facilities attract thousands daily. It is almost entirely surrounded by water – you can follow its 22-kilometre seawall by bike or by blade. This green peninsula in the city is not isolated — walking through Vancouver’s downtown core, it is not difficult to find instances of green and open space. This adds to the city’s human scale.

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Followed by some random Vancouver sights…

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Vancouver’s Millennium Water Olympic Village – North America’s first LEED Platinum Community – served as the Athletes’ Village for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Formerly an industrial site, it was the catalyst for the revitalization of the surrounding False Creek neighbourhood.

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La Ville de Québec

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Guy Levesque crafting another of his extraordinary hand carved molds.

Guy Levesque crafting another of his extraordinary hand carved molds.

Meet Guy Levesque, a rare find. He provides a glimpse into the world of a true artisan. For over 25 years, from his workshop-gallery in the Old Port district of Quebec City, he has brought the medieval art of Venetian mask making to Canada. His influences span Commedia dell’arte, Japanese Noh, to the contemporary. His chosen media are leather and metal, which can also be seen in his unique furniture pieces.

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Une tradition québécoise: le tire d'érable (maple taffy)

Une tradition québécoise: le tire d’érable (maple taffy)