Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Long Studio by Saunders Architecture

Saunders Architecture of Norway have recently completed the first of six artists' studios on Fogo Island off the coast of Canada (photographs by Bent René Synnevåg).

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Similar to local fisherman's houses, the studio sits on stilts and is clad in rough-sawn pine and whitewashed spruce on the interior.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The prefabricated timber construction is intended to be repeated across the island.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The plan is divided into three: an entrance porch, courtyard and studio space, with utilities recessed into the wall.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The building generates power using solar panels, treats its own waste and uses both rain and grey water.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The Long Studio is isolated from the community, accessed only by a ten minute walk.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The Fogo Island project also includes the design of a 29-room inn for artists and visitors.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The Long Studio is the first to be completed for the Arts Residency Project by the Fogo Island Art Corporation.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The remaining studios are due to be finished later this year.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

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Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The following is from the architects:


Long Studio, Fogo Island

Long Studio is the first manifestation of a plan to breathe new life into Fogo Island. Remotely situated off the coast of Newfoundland, Fogo has been imperiled by the collapsed fishing industry and out-migration. A private foundation plans to restore Fogo’s vibrancy and protect its culture with a unique Arts Residency Program. A powerful combination of stunning architecture, art and nature, far from the distractions and stresses of any city, will draw the participation of A-list artists and high-end tourists, generating jobs and rebounding the island’s economy.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Fogo Island is an elemental place of subtle and abiding beauty. Eleven communities comprising 3000 people live unpretentiously on the rugged, windswept terrain, far from the influence of the outside world. Therefore, the project required a very particular architectural sensibility: imaginative enough to attract international acclaim and also sensitive to Fogo’s delicate social and geographical ecology. Rather than constructing a single edifice, residences, studios and a five-star inn will be scattered across the island, so that guests will connect with its various villages.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Completed in June 2010, Long Studio is the first piece of this master plan. The 120m2 building is one of six studio designs that can be reproduced as the colony grows. It was pre-fabricated by local builders in workshop during the winter, and then reconstructed on-site in the spring. No road leads to Long Studio; it is a ten-minute walk from where the nearest track ends, ensuring complete physical and mental isolation. Like a shard of rock, its minimal, elongated form floats over the rough volcanic boulders, delightfully stretching airborne towards the Atlantic, with breakers incessantly crashing thunderously at its foot. The studio is a husk of blackened rough-sawn pine with an interior lining of whitewashed spruce. Its linear form is assertive, but its rugged surfaces and its off-the-shelf fixtures and finishings are unpretentious.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The entire southern wall is mute, like an arm extending permanent shelter. Three zones encourage indoor and outdoor activities and engagement with the surroundings. A covered “porch” marks the entrance to the studio. A central cut-out opens the studio to Fogo’s long summer days. An enclosed, trapezoidal box at end of the studio offers protection and solitude. Large windows at both ends and a skylight in the roof flood the interior with natural light and views and also facilitating the transport of large artworks and materials. The structure is unobstructed, maximizing wall and floor space for artist intervention.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Storage, a composting-toilet and washbasins are tucked unobtrusively into a one-meter recess in the wall, avoiding visual distraction.
Like all the new buildings for the project, Long Studio utilizes indigenous building techniques. Locally sourced wood cladding echoes the fishermen’s clapboard houses. Because the ground is too uneven and impenetrable, the studio stands on wood stilts just like Fogo’s traditional waterfront huts. This also allows the forceful winds to slip underneath the building rather than beating at its wall. The environment will leave its mark on the studio, weathering its wood over time.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The 100% off-the-grid studio produces its own power and treats its own waste, with no reliance on public services. Heat is produced from solar panels on the roof and a small wood stove. Rainwater is collected from the roof, stored in tanks in concealed storage rooms, and ultimately supplied to the shower and kitchenette. The studio has a composting toilet and grey water is treated on-site. The studio has been featured in a number of countries, in as diverse publications as Domus, Wallpaper, Fast Company and The New York Times, so that the initiative has already succeeded in transforming Fogo into an internationally coveted tourist destination.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Fogo Island Studios, Fogo Island

Few might know Fogo, a small and secluded island off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, and even fewer will have visited it. This North Atlantic piece of land is the home to the Fogo Islanders, a native people, who through the centuries have adapted to the island’s harsh climate and have developed their own traditional way of life, built mainly around cod fishing.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

When the Shorefast Foundation launched plans for an inn and a series of artists’ studios on various Fogo locations, approaching Saunders about it roughly four years ago, the architect immediately jumped to the opportunity. The organisation is committed to preserving the Islanders’ traditions, supported by local fibre optics businesswoman and one of the richest women in Canada, Zita Cobb, and aims at rejuvenating the island through the arts and culture. However, this 2008 commission had an additional and far more personal resonance to the architect. This would be a chance for not only experimenting with traditional architectural forms, methods and materials in a unique location, but also for working in Newfoundland, where Saunders grew up.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The fragile and gorgeous nature of Fogo was key to the brief’s development. “It is so beautiful there, but it’s a different, very rough kind of beauty”, Saunders says. His concept for the studios revolved around creating a series of strong geometric shapes, which would create a contrast, but without competing with the surrounding environment. Orientated towards the sea and used from spring through to autumn, from those studios the residents would be able to experience a range of climatic transitions and seasonal changes. Placed in remote locations within the island, the studios are set to compliment the artists’ residences, which are being created by restoring a number of traditional Newfoundland homes within the island communities.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Working on different studio types for each location (a personalised one for each of the nine communities on the island), Saunders developed the designs for about two years before starting construction. The first ones to finish were the Long Studio, the Tower Studio and the Writing Studio. The 120m2 m elegant Long Studio is a linear volume including three rooms and combining open and closed areas; the 80m2 more iconic Tower Studio is vertical and slightly twisted like a giant origami; and the 20m2.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Writing Studio is the smallest of them all, conceived as a place for contemplation and including a small library. There will be six different studios in total – or “half a dozen” as the local say.
All studios feature wood, and this as well as the construction methods used, refer back to local traditions. Standing on tall pillars, the structures project over the seawater. Saunders explains: “it feels like doing contemporary architecture but based on what’s been there before. Most traditional buildings there are amphibious, only half on dry land, almost like walking off the land and into the water.” Of the total of nine six distinct types planned, five are completed in 2010, while four more will be built on a later stage. “You can say they are ‘strangely familiar’.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

They look strange but on a closer inspection they are in fact built with very familiar methods”, the architect describes. A similar feel will dominate the 29-room boutique hotel Saunders is also working on, on the island. Using wood again as the main material, Saunders designed the Fogo Inn as a means towards the island’s both economic and cultural survival, but also as a timeless piece of architecture, which would be ‘made just for Fogo’.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

As Cobb outlined in the inn’s brief, the building had to be a site-specific design, representing the island and in a way carrying its ‘soul’. In order to achieve this, this hotel, comfortable and modern as it may be, is not all about the luxuries inside. “The whole basis of the project is the inimitable views towards the Atlantic coast; the whole project is facing north”, explains Saunders. “It is almost an anti-hotel,” he says, half-joking. The Inn includes a restaurant, directed by one of Canada’s best chefs, together with a lobby, a library, a small movie theatre and an independent art gallery on the ground floor; four floors of rooms above ground level; and a sauna and spa facility on the top of the building. All spaces are designed by Saunders with the help of local practices, as well as selected invited international professionals. Finnish-born architect Sami Rintala, for example, is behind the top-level spa, while at the moment, the architect and clients’ team is in the process of commissioning the specifics of the remaining separate parts to different architects.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The inn’s design proved to be a long and occasionally complicated process. While the task of designing a modest and unpretentious, yet unique, comfortable and quietly innovative hospitality space is no mean feat, the procedure itself was also part of the project’s challenges. ‘We had a meeting with everybody about everything every so often so it has been very demanding. But it was undoubtedly a very fruitful process’, Saunders recalls, explaining that discussing all the detailswith the rather large number of the different stake- holders involved in the Fogo project certainly made the process more complex, as it did fulfilling and eventually exceptionally well-thought out.

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

The Fogo Island Arts Corporation program kicks off in the summer of 2010 with the opening of the long studio and the end of the year saw the final touches being added to the 3 new studios. The final 2 studios will be built in 2011. Along with the library, hotel, restaurant and art gallery, the residencies’ program is putting Fogo on the map as a prime cultural, ecological and culinary tourist destination, at same time safeguarding its local traditions.

Client name: Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Arts Corporation
The location of the project: Fogo Island, Canada
The project was started and finished 2007-2011
The area in square metres: 40, 80, 120m2
Project Architect – Saunders Architecture
Associate Architect - Sheppard Case Architects Inc.
Structural Engineer: DBA Associates
Services Engineer: Core Engineering
Builder: Shorefast Foundation

Fogo Islands by Saunders Architecture

Photography: Bent René Synnevåg