By Phil Roberts…
As the first new architectural practice to have opened in Newfoundland in ten years, Woodford Sheppard Architecture is benefiting from the Atlantic province’s change of fortune. Chris Woodford and Taryn Sheppard opened their St. John’s-based studio at a time when Newfoundlanders seem ready to capitalize on that change, in numerous ways.
After suffering for decades with an underperforming economy and a constant exodus, offshore oil reserves have made Newfoundland one of the richest provinces in Canada. With a population that is increasing for the first time in almost 50 years, Newfoundlanders are optimistic about the future. “The ‘you can’t do that in Newfoundland’ way of thinking is evaporating with new entrepreneurs in Newfoundland,” says Chris.
In terms of the built environment, this has meant a willingness on the part of municipalities to break traditional moulds and be explorative. “St. John’s is the only urban centre and it wants to preserve its heritage,” describes Chris. “But the smaller towns in the rest of the province are looking to change their image.”
There are not many large scale projects in Newfoundland, so clients turn to smaller practices willing to take on projects of $3 million or less. Most practices in Newfoundland are purchased by mainland firms, something that Chris and Taryn have managed to avoid.
“We couldn’t see ourselves working for someone else,” says Taryn. “Having the freedom to approach projects the way we want is important to us.” Whereas established firms sometimes fail to take advantage of the topography of Newfoundland, Chris and Taryn borrow from the climate of their context.
“We try to make use of the rugged nature of the Newfoundland coastline, our high wind loads, high snow loads, and find an aesthetic in those details,” explains Taryn. This is especially true in the rural areas of the province that see an abundance of precipitation.
The East Coast Trail on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, is one such area that could see a luxurious addition. The Avalon Peninsula, the most eastern part of Canada, could become more enjoyable with the inclusion of ‘glamping’, a concept of off the grid luxury hospitality in wooded areas. The client behind the project wants the hotel room size glamping units placed along the trail as added amenities.
Chris and Taryn see the units as visual markers on the landscape, improving the hiking experience. The units will also provide comfortable protection from the sometimes unmerciful climate and coarse landscape. The rocky coast with the fishing shack is an iconic image in Newfoundland, a historical model from which they borrow to encourage people to hike.
In the St. John’s suburb of Paradise, they proposed a corporate live-work campus for an offshore oil company, that would preserve nearby existing wetlands as an amenity for the workers. Paradise is one of the fastest growing communities in the country, but it is developing with little concern to mass transit or wetland conservation.
The corporate campus would seek to be an example for how the natural aspects of Newfoundland can be enjoyed, even in a corporate setting. The idea is to let the natural setting be a respite for the employees, and reduce the feeling of seclusion prevalent in many corporate campuses.
In a province that has no school of architecture, practices like Woodford Sheppard Architecture are well positioned to teach the public how the built environment should complement the beauty of their province. “A lot of the questions that have been debated in architecture schools across Canada for decades are only now being debated in Newfoundland,” says Chris.
With Newfoundlanders returning to the ‘Rock’, and the arrival of temporary workers for the offshore oil sector, issues concerning master planning and density are influencing the province’s development.
Taryn believes that despite the lack of familiarity in dealing with a building boom, there’s still a way to get people to enjoy the architecture of their communities. “We just try to encourage an appreciation for the natural landscape of Newfoundland.”
Phil Roberts is the creative director of sixty7 Architecture Road.
All images courtesy of Woodford Sheppard Architecture.