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Island life: Inn and Studios on Fogo Island by Saunders Architecture

On a rocky outcrop with striking sea views, Saunders Architecture has designed a hotel, artists’ studios and cultural and leisure facilities

Todd Saunders, a Canadian who founded his practice in Norway in 1998, doesn’t mince words. When I ask what it’s like being an architect in Bergen, he describes it in a word: ‘Wet. It rains 250 days a year.’ Described as an act of ‘social entrepreneurialism’, the Fogo Island regeneration project in Newfoundland, Canada was initiated by dot-com financier Zita Cobb to save her impoverished remote home island, devastated by the loss of the fisheries. The collapse of the cod economy that had supported this community for more than two centuries was catastrophic.

Cobb singlehandedly funded the US$43 million transformation, founding the Shorefast Foundation to reimagine and rebrand Fogo Island as a luxury tourist destination with an ambitious artist-in-residence programme.

Fogo island inn drawings

Fogo island inn drawings

Cobb asked Saunders to design the architecture, which includes the five-star Fogo Inn, with 29 rooms, an independent art gallery, restaurant, library, cinema, and rooftop spa and sauna. In addition to the hotel, Saunders was also commissioned to design six artists’ studios scattered across the island to house the artists in residence, including the Squish Studio, which perches on a seaside outcrop with a cosy timber-lined interior that turns its back on the sea.

The hotel is a Modernist hulk, one end raised on an awkward cluster of spindly stilts. Inside, the aesthetic is one of pared back luxury; a kind of unpretentious chic, with evident Scandinavian influences. Views out to this haunting, alien landscape give the project a forlorn, lost island appeal – a high-end escape at the end of the world. Every room has a view of the ocean to make the most of Iceberg Alley – or perhaps see a gargantuan shard flow past, catch a glimpse of bald eagles, or Minke whales.

Fogo island studio drawings

Fogo island studio drawings

The resort’s altruistic endeavour also extends beyond its walls into the wider community – all of the furniture and furnishings are made in workshops on the island, some of the food is produced locally, and all profits go into a micro-lending project to support local entrepreneurs.

Described as having a ‘northern aesthetic’, Saunders works primarily in timber across his projects, but says this is because the majority of commissions are in Scandinavia or Canada, rather than it being a conscious approach. With a number of commissions in the USA and Canada, Saunders says he will be relocating half of his office to North America – perhaps to get out of the rain, at last. 

Fogo Island Inn and Studios

Architect: Saunders Architecture

Associate architect: Sheppard Case Architects Inc (Long Studio) 

Structural engineer: DBA Associates (Long Studio) 

Photographs: Alex Fradkin and Bent René Synnevåg