N.L. soul, contemporary twist

Steve Bartlett
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Todd Saunders' eye-catching, innovative designs are built to last

A rendering of the Squish Studio, the building Gander-born architect Todd Saunders designed for a cliff in Tilting. - Artist's rendering courtesy of Todd Saunders

To design the five-star inn and art studios for the Shorefast Foundation, Zita Cobb sought a rare creative beast.

"I wanted to find an architect who had Newfoundland in his soul, but contemporary design in his head," she says. "There's not 100 people on the planet like that."

Cobb found her "star-chitect," if you will, in Todd Saunders.

A friend sent her an article about the Gander native who had been working out of Norway.

Cobb says she was immediately struck by a lookout point Saunders had designed over a Norwegian fjord.

She promptly called the architect, and reached him while he was kayaking on a fjord.

Soon, he was drafting Shorefast's projects.

Saunders believes he was hired because Cobb knew he'd take some risks.

He started the work about four-and-a-half years ago. The idea was to put six studios in different settings - dramatic landscapes with Newfoundland character.

The locations had to be near communities, but not close enough to compete with local architecture.

Working with the Fogo Island Arts Corporation, the sites were identified around Fogo Island.

In designing the studios, Saunders asked himself what new Newfoundland architecture would look like.

To incorporate the past with the present, he envisioned clapboard and traditional paints.

"They're not pretentious at all," he says of the result. "They're rough and down to earth. They don't take themselves too seriously."

The architectural world has taken the work quite seriously though.

Only the Long Studio has been officially opened and it's been featured in every major architecture magazine, and publications still call regularly to inquire about it.

It graced the cover of both Canadian Architect and Azure, and it's a finalist in the international design competition AZ People's Choice Awards 2011.

With three more studios opening next month - including one in Tilting called the Squish Studio - the architect expects this will also be a busy year, media-wise.

It'll likely be hectic again in 2012, after the Fogo Island Inn opens.

Saunders - who got hooked on his profession while building little cabins with his Gander buddies as a boy - points out that it's the first time he's designed an inn.

He believes he was a brave choice for Cobb.

"I think she was afraid (other architects) would repeat themselves," he says.

The inn was tough to design, Saunders admits. One reason: it's on a bluff over the North Atlantic and must withstand winds whipping off the water at more than 100 kilometres an hour.

Saunders has designed buildings for sites around the world, but the ones on Fogo Island are the first in his home province.

He was proud to do the work.

"It meant a lot more to me," he says of the project.

In the next few years, another Saunders design will be erected in the province. He's designing the Nunatsiavut government's new cultural centre in Nain.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Shorefast Foundation, Fogo Island Arts, Fogo Island Inn

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Gander, Fogo Island Norway North Atlantic Nain

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