Fogo Island and Change Islands
They are what's called outport communities. If you’re in Newfoundland, this is how you’ll hear the small coastal settlements referred to. They’re not towns, or hamlets or villages; they are, in the unique language that has developed in this place over the centuries, outports.
Some 2400 people live on Fogo Island and 250 people live on Change Islands.
Fogo Island is home to 11 communities – each with its own distinctive flare and allure.
It is not surprising that the Flat Earth Society considers Fogo Island one of the four corners of a flat earth.
Fogo Island and Change Islands were among the earliest settlements in Canada. They are populated by a people descended from immigrants from the west country of England and Ireland. They have always sustained themselves from the resources of the sea and have developed a vibrant culture based on deeply rooted connections to place and community. Located in the Labrador Current, the Northeast Coast of Newfoundland is the only place in the world where people live in moving ice – as the Arctic pack ice and icebergs are brought to their shores by the south flowing current. To live here is to have an indomitable spirit, a deep understanding of the full community of life, of the give and take of living with the sea and no small sense of humour.
People settled on Fogo Island and Change Islands, like most of Newfoundland, to fish for cod. Cod has sustained people in this place for centuries. In 1992, the government imposed a moratorium and the cod fishery was closed. The upheaval throughout rural Newfoundland was devastating with hundreds of small rural communities – outports – losing their livelihoods almost overnight.
It is a sad reality that many fishing communities are ‘too far gone’ to save. This is not the case with Fogo Island and Change Islands. While the islands suffer from high unemployment, the out-migration of youth and the lack of many of the social and health facilities that most Canadians take for granted, there is no poverty of aspirations. Far from it.
Fogo Island and Change Islands are known for world-class, cultural programming that attracts people from around the world. Fogo Island Arts  hosts internationally recognized artists and researchers working in a wide range of disciplines, including visual art, new media, design, fine craft, music, writing and film. It also brings artists and local community members together for workshops, seminars, exhibitions and other events. Arts Corporation activities have two intertwined strands – an international Residency Program and a Production Program. All activities focus on locally rooted and site-responsive themes inspired by Fogo Island’s and Change Islands’ unique geography and people, while reaching out to the international art scene at the same time.
Fogo Island is a place of stunning 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.
Six remote sites scattered across 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 within the various communities and interact, on a daily basis, with the local residents.
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 public services. All the studios follow the same model in which the studio is paired with a Saltbox – a traditional Newfoundland house, where the artist's abides when not fixated on his/ her most recent art project. The restoration of the traditional Saltbox house and the new construction of the architecturally provocative studios has created an interesting dynamic that brings the local vernacular architecture face-to-face with the multi-faceted expressions of contemporary culture.
Located near the community of Joe Batt's Arm, the Long Studio is an elongated and slightly distorted box that measures just over one hundred feet in length and about eighteen feet in width. Although this solitary, off-the grid building is firmly grounded by a concrete foundation at its western end, the twelve hundred square foot studio gradually takes flight, as it begins to hover on a series of stilts that lifts the structure above the ground to frame a view of the North Atlantic Ocean that periodically includes icebergs that originate from the glaciers of Greenland.
The project's robust architectural character certainly resonates with the sensibility of this place. It has a duel character as a viewing device that frames the landscape, the sea or a cloud overhead, as well as, an introverted place of repose for the artistic soul – a well-insulated industrial object designed to weather any storm.
Saunders has carefully choreographed a sequence of events that responds to the seasons, given the studios will be used spring, summer and fall. It begins with a covered exterior entry area that provides a degree of shelter from the rain and wind. This entry zone then mutates into an exposed exterior patio, a notch in an otherwise uninterrupted black box, that faces south to capture the sun. The last zone is a fully enclosed, insulated workspace, designed to filter light and direct views.
Upon entering the studio's interior, one is immediately struck by the drama of an elongated space that is further delineated by the horizontal lines of the white pine planks and flat countertops of the kitchenette and work area. A large triangular skylight, screened by the exposed timber framing below it, provides ample top lighting that reduces the need for extensive electrical lighting (and larger arrays of photovoltaic panels) and provides full color rendition for the work produced by the visiting artists and designers.
The Long Studio terminates with a large glass window that hovers above the horizon – a lookout to watch the weather move throughout the day and season. As a hollow structure, that filters its environment, one can imagine, in the dead of night, the whistling of the high winds that ride the North Atlantic, or the slight taste of the salt, as the studio's operable windows are opened and the space is vented with the ocean breeze on a warm afternoon in July.
The Squish Studio is located just outside the small town of Tilting on the eastern end of Fogo Island. The Squish Studio's white angular form, sited on a rocky strip of coastline, that could rival Italy's western coast, offers sharp contrast to the traditional vernacular architecture of the nearby picturesque community of Tilting. As its architect, Todd Saunders, has commented on the studio's siting, "...it is out of sight, but close."
The approach to the front entry of the studio is dramatic, as the most southern end of the studio rises twenty feet above the ground, in sharp contrast to its most northern tip that measures only half that dimension. The compact, trapezium-shaped plan of the studio is augmented by the extension of the east and west exterior walls to create a sheltered, triangulated south entry deck and a north terrace that overlooks the ocean. From a distant view, the streamlined form of the Squish Studio becomes apparent with its high back and low (squished) front designed, in part, to deflect the winds from the stormy North Atlantic.
Inside the studio, the spatial compression of the tall and narrow entry area gives way to the horizontal expanse of the main room. The downward angled roof leads the eye to the full height oblong glass window focused on a splendid view of Round Head. The vertical white planks that line the interior walls are interrupted by a playful series of narrow windows integrated with an expanse of built-in cabinetry.
The Squish Studio, like most of its other counterparts, is equipped with a compost toilet, a small kitchenette and wood-burning stove. Power is supplied by stand-alone solar panels, mounted on an adjacent hilltop. Both the interior and exterior of the studio, including the roof, is clad with spruce planks that are painted white. At night, the studio, illuminated by the soft glow of its solar-powered lighting, appears as a lantern or a lighthouse placed strategically on a rocky cliff to overlook the North Atlantic.
In its isolation, one can also imagine a sole occupant, vulnerable but protected from the elements – inspired to work late into the night, occasionally distracted by the crash of the waves, or perhaps, fully immersed in the work at hand, the first glimpse of the sunrise through the Squish Studio's slot windows that face the north-eastern horizon.
The trek to the Bridge Studio from the Deep Bay House looks short on a map. Of course, on the ground is a different matter as the topography enters the equation and one navigates the rocky landscape of the lichen clad granite outcroppings on this sublimely beautiful stretch of coastline leading to Bridge Studio.
Along the winding path one encounters short runs of wooden stairs and ramps, installed in critical locations to help visitors ascend some of the trail's steeper inclines. After walking about twenty minutes, the first sign of the Bridge Studio is an isolated solar panel (and battery enclosure) mounted on a hilltop to take full advantage of the Island's limited sunshine. These solar cells generate electrical power for the near-by studio, dramatically located on a steep hillside overlooking the calm waters of an inland pond.
The first impression of the Bridge Studio is it's abstract quality. From the side elevation, it appears as a windowless wood-clad parallelogram, hovering above the landscape, propped up by four piers and connected by a sixteen-foot bridge to the adjacent hillside. As one approaches the three hundred and twenty square foot studio, it becomes more transparent – with a generous glass entry and a large square window at the other end of the room.
Viewed from the glass entry, the ceiling from the entry slopes up to the top of a large picture window at the opposite end of the room. The picture window's sill is flush with a built-in desk, the perfect place to write and contemplate the view. To mirror the sloped ceiling, the floor of the Bridge Studio is composed of two levels. The lower area, that accommodates an entry area, long counter and wood-burning stove is divided from the upper area by a short run of stairs. From the entry, the perspectival aspect of the project is augmented by alignment of the four-inch painted spruce planks that line the interior surfaces.
From the aerial photographs, the isolation of the Bridge Studio becomes apparent, a highly restrained, slightly distorted, elongated box sited on an outcropping of rock, overlooking a sheltered pond of water. The form, although resolutely contemporary recalls a traditional Newfoundland fishing stage (in the local nomenclature) a wooden vernacular building, typical of traditional buildings associated with the cod fishery in the province. It was in these fishing stages, equipped with cutting tables, that fishermen would clean and salt the once plentiful codfish that was distributed worldwide.
It is an interesting twist that the Bridge Studio echoes this vernacular form, once a typical sighting in any Newfoundland outport. The fishing stage and the cod give way to the studio and the production of art.
The Tower Studio is dramatically situated on a stretch of rocky coastline in Shoal Bay. The studio's sculptural silhouette leans both forward and backward as it twists upward. There are no roads to the Tower Studio, it can only be reached by hiking along the shore from the adjacent community or walking on a narrow wooden boardwalk consisting of weathered planks that hover just slightly above a bog that features an abundance of cloudberries, known locally as bakeapples.
From a distance the wooden boardwalk reads like a tether strap, linking the stranded Tower Studio to the lifeline of a busy stretch of road. As one approaches the studio, its south-facing entry area is angled back thirty degrees. Overhead a triangulated section of wall leans forward to shelter the double glass doors below. Both the soffit and the angled entryway, clad in horizontal boards of spruce are stained white in sharp contrast to remainder of the building's windowless exterior of vertical plank siding painted slate black.
The Tower Studio is comprised of three levels with an overall height of thirty-two feet. Its entry area is equipped with a kitchenette, a compost toilet and woodburning fireplace. Its second level is a studio, day lit by a generous skylight that faces northward. A mezzanine overhead, juts into the double height volume of the studio.
Aside from the geometric complexity of the space, the second feature that adds to a sense of disorientation is the elimination of architectural detail and the fact that all vertical, horizontal and inclined surfaces, clad in smooth plywood, are painted a brilliant white. The only relief from the stark interior is a sliver of the exterior visible through the studio's sole skylight. A slightly angled wall opposite and parallel to the skylight provides the perfect viewing surface upon which a body can recline and enjoy the view. One can imagine the magical effect of resting against this surface during a moonlit evening with the audible roar of the North Atlantic and force of the wind against the exposed surface of the tower.
From the studio level, a narrow ladder (also painted white) leads past the mezzanine level to the underside of a roof hatch. As one passes through the horizontal opening and stands on the roof-top deck, the view of the ocean and the rocky wind-swept terrain is spectacular.
The story of the Tower Studio is not complete without referencing two structures that support it. The first one is a 'standalone' array of solar panels situated about fifty feet to the west of the studio's main entrance. Because all the studios are located on isolated sites without access to the utilities of electricity, water and sewer, they are equipped with photovoltaic panels, compost toilets and water cisterns.
The closest airport for visiting Fogo Island and Change Islands is Gander International Airport in Newfoundland and Labrador.
From Gander, you must get to the community of Farewell on Route 235, the Road to the Isles scenic driving route. There is a ferry service that takes approximately 25 minutes from Farewell to Change Islands, and 50 minutes from from Farewell to Fogo Island.
The Fogo Island ferry schedule can be found on the Newfoundland and Labrador government website by following this link.
Fogo Island and Change Islands offer the opportunity to see stunning natural wildlife and scenery. It is a regular occurrence to spot humpback whales, caribou herds, soaring seabirds, and towering icebergs.