Lying off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada, Fogo Island may be small and remote (with a population of just over 2,000) but it’s one that’s rich in history and culture. Settled by the English, the Irish and the French in the 1700s, Fogo Island built up a thriving fishing industry, its residents living off – and completely dependent upon – the land. Up until the late ‘60s, the island was completely car-free, adding to this simplicity of life and unique, traditional culture.
It all changed in the mid ‘70s, though, when the island’s main industry began to collapse; the cod fishery finally closing in 1992 and the population ever-dwindling. In an effort to revitalise the economy and hold on to the island’s years of extensive traditional knowledge, the Shorefast Foundation was set up in 2003. The charity works as a social enterprise, developing local enterprises and businesses to build up the community and bring industry – albeit different to the one it started with – back to the island.
Part of this regeneration is Fogo Island Arts, a not-for-profit organisation. It’s a residency-based contemporary art venue, where artists, writers, filmmakers and designers from around the world come to research, work and present in exhibitions at the Fogo Island Gallery.
It’s a new and contemporary approach to art, and one that required artists’ studios that would complement that. The Foundation enlisted the help of architect Todd Saunders who grew up in Newfoundland, and whose studio – Saunders Architecture – is now based in Bergen, Norway. With his personal knowledge of the area and modern approach to design, Saunders proved to be the perfect fit for the project.
Saunders created a series of six artists’ studios, all dotted around the island in remote areas to evoke that sense of drama and peace that Fogo is known for. The geometric structures are bold, jutting out of the natural landscape on steel legs and providing a stark contrast to the wild and untouched area upon which they lie. Each studio is different but has elements that tie them all together: large windows facing out to sea, a striking design and a construction made from local materials.
To house the artists during their residency, Saunders also built the 29-room Fogo Island Inn. With a similar design to the studios, the inn is dramatic yet manages to blend itself into the surrounding landscape. Designers such as Donna Wilson and Ineke Hans were invited to the island to work with local craftspeople on the interiors of the inn, resulting in a place where almost everything has been designed and made on the island. The creativity of the island is found at every corner of the inn, successfully turning this once-fishing island into one that’s contemporary, innovative, and a must-visit for artists and tourists alike.
Words by Angharad Jones. Images property of Saunders Architecture