Fogo Island Artist Studios

by | 07. Aug 2012

Feature | Other

Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Fogo Island, a small secluded island off the coast of Newfoundland, is an elemental place of subtle and abiding beauty – a place where time is not obliterated by the circulation of everything.

Its people are inextricably bound to this place where they belong. They are a culturally rich and resourceful people who live in close connection with each other and with their people who have come before.

The Shorefast Foundation works with the people of Fogo Island to find ways to preserve this special place and this special culture. This project is the basis for an Arts Residency Program started in 2010.

We have chosen to find new paths by leading with the arts.  We want to create structures that respect where we’ve come from and dignify this landscape that is so fragile yet so fearsome. We want structures that touch our imaginations and help maintain a connection between our past and our future.
/The Shorefast Foundation

Photo: Bent René Synnevåg

When the Shorefast Foundation approached Saunders with plans for a series of artists’ studios and an inn on various Fogo locations the architect jumped at the opportunity as it 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.

The idea behind the forms of the various studios was to create a bold geometric structure to starkly contrast, yet lay silently in the striking natural environment. The main concept behind the layout of the artist studios was to observe the surrounding environment during its transition through the various seasons in which the studios will be in use: spring, summer and fall.

The studios are all oriented towards the sea and elevated above the ground to provide the resident artist with a feeling of being unobstructed and unbound.  The materials and construction methods chosen reflect that of the local architecture of Fogo Island. The environment will leave its marks on the studios by weathering the structures over time.

/Todd Saunders

Photo: Bent René Synnevåg

The first finished studios, of a total of six, are the Long Studio, the Tower Studio, and the Bridge Studio.

The 120 M2 Long Studio, organized in a linear from that consists of three different spaces, responds to the transition of the seasons. An open but covered area, representing the spring, marks the entrance to the studio and the beginning of the seasonal activity.


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Drawing courtesy Saunders Architecture


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg

The central portion is left open and mostly exposed to be fully immersed in all that is offered by the long summer days on Fogo Island. The end and main body of the studio is fully enclosed to provide an area of protection and solitude from the outside environment, while still providing a connection to the landscape through a strategically framed view of the dramatic surrounding.

The long linear structure maximizes the amount of open wall and floor space. Large windows at either end and a skylight on the roof of the studio allows the maximum amount of natural light to flood the space. One of the walls is one meter deep to house storage, toilets and washbasins, with doors that are flush to the wall, thus avoiding any visual distraction inside the space.

The studio is placed on pillars at the end towards the sea, while the entrance area has a small concrete foundation for anchoring the construction to the landscape. With this type of construction, the studios can be placed in almost any place on the island. In addition, this allows for the studios to be pre-fabricated in a local workshop during the winter months, and then placed in the landscape in the spring.

The more iconic 80 square meter Tower Studio is vertical icon in an otherwise horizontal landscape. The form is composed of twisting planes reminiscent of brain-teasing origami. All four facades are different. The tower will always appear tall; yet will look different from all directions.

The lower floor is a simple storage area or extra studio space. One climbs a stair to enter a double height room that goes over two floors. A large window is on the north and wraps around the western facade. The view is to the north and towards the sea, thus providing the diffused daylight preferred by most artists.

There is a sculptural-looking stair that goes up 6 meters and opens onto the roof terrace; a place for an artist to work on warm days in late spring until early Fall. This vantage point allows for spectacular 360-degree views of the dramatic surrounding landscapes.

The small one room 20 square meter Bridge Studio is a small enclosure with little disturbance that allows one to concentrate on the art of writing.  A long plank walkway leaves the land to continue over a stretch of water to the actual studio; a simple box tilted upwards toward the view of the ocean.

We decided to disconnect the studio from the land and place it on pilings in the water thus creating its own “island.
/Todd Saunders

Photo: Bent René Synnevåg


Photo: Bent René Synnevåg

Finally, the Squish Studio and Little Seldom Studio were just completed.

You can say the buildings are “strangely familiar,” they look strange but on closer inspection they are in fact built with very familiar methods. 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.
/Todd Saunders

Drawing courtesy Saunders Architecture


Drawing courtesy Saunders ArchitectureFogo

A similar feel will dominate a 29-room boutique hotel Saunders is also working on. 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.”

The specially designed contemporary spaces along with the renovated traditional buildings will house two parallel programs run by the Fogo Island Arts Corporation. First, the Residency Program will be open to international contemporary artists of various disciplines who will be invited to spend some months living and working in the communities around Fogo Island.

 Island Inn (1), Long Studio (2), Squish Studio (3), Little Seldom Studio (4), Bridge Studio (5), Fogo Studio (6), Tower Studio (7).
Second, the Production Program will organize workshops, art projects, seminars and exhibits in partnership with professionals of different backgrounds.  The two programs will interact on all levels and work in close dialogue with each other.  Both programs will focus on locally rooted and site-specific themes inspired by this unique place and it’s people as well as reach out to the International Contemporary Art Scene.


CITY Newfoundland
ARCHITECT Todd Saunders