As architects, we are committed to conserving our cultural heritage. In addition to our experience in adapting and reusing older buildings, we provide strategies for adapting communities, evaluating their cultural assets, and rehabilitating their built and natural forms.

Outport communities are unique to Newfoundland and Labrador, and are some of Canada's oldest European settlements. They began as temporary, migratory fishing villages that would be demounted at the end of each season as the fishermen and merchants returned to Europe. Outports would typically consist of simple wooden houses and assorted fishing infrastructure, and were accessed only by the sea. Eventually certain fishermen and servants chose to remain through the winter, a merchant colony was established, and larger permanent structures were constructed in the same vernacular style.

Founded over 200 years ago, Burlington is a small harbour community in the Baie Verte peninsula of Newfoundland. The main industries in Burlington have always centred around the extraction of natural resources, including fishing, shipbuilding, and logging - with various mining facilities throughout the larger region. As with many other outports, it is currently in a state of transition. Out-migration has been underway for the last century, as many long-time residents have been forced to move away in search of employment.

Outport communities such as Burlington have been forced to confront a number of fundamental social, cultural, and economic shifts within the last 50 plus years, including the cod moratorium, the transportation shift from sea to land, the population shift from rural areas to urban and growth centres, and an ageing population. These forces continue to exert profound pressures on outport communities, and pose a threat to the intangible cultural heritage that defines them.

Burlington, as well as Newfoundland's many outport communities, were established from the sea, and exist because of the once abundant fisheries found in this part of the North Atlantic. Outport communities relied on the extraction of natural resources for their stainability, and they evolved a sophisticated relationship with a harsh and unforgiving coastal landscape.

From the perspective of heritage professionals, these locally evolved and culturally specific qualities would constitute the intangible cultural heritage of Burlington. UNESCO defines intangible cultural heritage as:

"The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith that communities, groups, and in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity".

As part of the Culture of Outports project, a team of ERA staff taught an intensive design/build course in the small outport of Burlington, Newfoundland. The course was run through the Dalhousie University School of Architecture, and began with a lengthy road-trip from St. John's, where students had the opportunity to study and immerse themselves in the local and material culture. Then, working with the full support of the Burlington community and assisted by a range of craftspeople, ERA led the six architecture students in the design and construction of a small-scale intervention bred from site-specific conditions, drawing upon vernacular building techniques and traditional craft practices, and making use of local materials.

The Dalhousie School of Architecture conducts intensive two-week design/build labs, known as 'Free Labs', at the very end of the summer school semester. They are typically supervised by faculty members or sessional instructors, though in exceptional circumstances (such as here) they are led by external practicioners. The Free Lab involves a mix of both undergraduate and graduate architecture students directly in issues of construction, performance, and material in relation to design.

Projects typically include small buildings, landscape installations, films, and performances. For convenience, many projects are constructed on the grounds of the university's Sexton Campus. Others are located elsewhere in Halifax and beyond: Kingsburg, the Annapolis Valley, Cape Breton Island, or - in our unique case - Burlington, Newfoundland. The construction of these design-build projects is a notable public event in the community, raising public awareness of architecture and building construction. Our Free Lab also sought to actively involve and engage with local community members and craftspeople through both the design and construction phases.

Led by William MacIvor and Philip Evans of ERA, the team of six Dalhousie students undertook an intensive study of a number of outport communities and their surrounding cultural and physical landscapes over the first few days in Newfoundland. Complementing this were tours of local facilities and lectures by regional craftspeople, including touring the on-going archeological dig in Brigus, the Volkeys ship-building facility in Trinity, the Wooden Boat museum in Winterton, and the historic village at Random Passage. The team also enjoyed a better understanding of the local culture through numerous musical recitals, lectures and workshops on topics varying from traditional construction techniques to master shipbuilders and shipbuilding, boat tours, trips to local saw-mills, etc.

Upon arrival in Burlington, a thorough analysis of the existing site conditions was undertaken that included a regional cultural resource inventory. The team found that a former, infilled pond was serving as the only public site on Burlington's waterfront, which allowed for informal camping and gathering. The Free Lab proposed a formalization of the improvised campground that incorporated traditional building techniques and made use of only local materials. The final installation features an accessible decked platform with a large banquet table resting on a rock-filled crib structure, a fire pit, and configurable bench seating to allow for multiple scales of gathering.

The main focus of the waterfront intervention was to emphasize and embrace the unique topography, and nestle the intervention sensitively into the rock formations which were uncovered on the site. The formal elements of the installation are oriented toward both the approach to the site and to views along the shore and out to the bay. Existing rock formations were integrated as ledge seating, and no concrete or other destructive, scarring materials were used. Accessibility was a primary concern for the project, in order to allow all members of the community to enjoy the platform together. The installation was also designed to lead up to and attach to a planned wooden boardwalk overtop of the existing rocky breakwater - to be built by the community in the fall of 2011.

The project proposes that an understanding of the unique history and character of these communities is essential in order to successfully plan and manage their future evolution, post fisheries. In many cases, creative thinkers are rebuilding these communities in the next wave of cultural activity.

To research, showcase, and promote the rich cultural heritage of the outport community, and Burlington in particular.

To learn from local building traditions, and to engage with the local community to better understand the inventory of local tangible and intangible cultural resources.

To work with students from Dalhousie University and to involve members of the Burlinton community to attempt to interpret these cultural resources in a sensitive, informed manner which serves both to reference the importance of the heritage of the community while addressing contemporary needs.

To design and build a small-scale permanent installation on the waterfront campground site (using local, traditional building methods of light wood-frame construction that touches the ground lightly without altering the landscape) in partnership with the local community, that reinforces the current use of the site as a civic amenity.

To thoroughly document the design/build project, such that it may be used by the community for future fundraising purposes, or by neighbouring communities to imagine the potential in their own context.

To publish and disseminate this knowledge and research using a variety of media.

To imagine how this study fits into larger regional planning initiatives.

all images and text within this page copyright 2012 by CUG+R.