Iceberg Alley

Every year about 40,000 medium- to large-sized icebergs calve from the edges of Greenland glaciers. After slipping into the ocean, the bergs float in frosty arctic bays melting slowly as they pass through the Davis Strait and into the Labrador Current toward St. John’s, Newfoundland. Only about 400 to 800 bergs make it this far south. It is this annual cycle that has given this outpost stretched across the eastern coast of the 108,000 km2 island of Newfoundland the nickname of “iceberg alley.” Along this oceanic alleyway sits Twillingate, the proclaimed “iceberg capital of the world,” which is one of Newfoundland’s best locations for admiring the drifting ice giants. In addition to providing fodder for the adventure-seeking tourist, these freshwater masses are also supplying water for boutique industries such as iceberg water and iceberg vodka. In addition to the icebergs, tourists are attracted to the region to see whales, ocean birds, and other coastal species. Tourism has recently become a significant new contributor to the province’s economy.

Newfoundland’s modest origins are steeped in maritime culture and have weathered the transition from subsistence fishing to commercial fishing to the more recent introduction of the oil and tourism economy. Following the devastating collapse of the cod fishery in the early 1990s, the province suffered record unemployment rates and population decrease. The transition toward an oil economy soon followed. After decades of surveying and site preparation, oil production began on the Hibernia field 315 km off the coast of southeast Newfoundland in 1997 and has shifted the local economy toward a more global paradigm. The oil industry accounted for 35 per cent of the provincial GDP in 2007. This echoes the province’s history of boom and bust economies due to over-reliance on single resources.

Newfoundland contains numerous outports (a local term for “small isolated coastal communities”) that have weathered this boom-and-bust economy. In addition to economic difficulties, outports have endured consistent pressure to depopulate in order to concentrate government services in-land. The outport remains an endangered condition. This studio will observe “iceberg alley” and its outports as demanding of an architecture that must negotiate the hyper-local and the global; the vernacular and the generic; the reactive and the imposed. Students will conduct research and develop a design project that directly addresses programmatic and economic opportunities emerging from the pressure on outport infrastructure and the need to simultaneously serve and expand beyond the tourism and resource industry.

Mason White will be in residence on the following dates (Lola Sheppard will also be in residence on the dates in bold): August 31, September 8, 9, 15, 16 and 22, October 6, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28, November 3, 10, 11, 17, 18 and 24, December 1, 2, and for the Final Reviews in December.

Studio trip pending. If trip takes place it will happen in October for 5 nights.