It’s been five years since Fogo Island Inn and its acclaimed artist-residency program opened to the public, propelling the small Newfoundland outport and its architect into the spotlight. One of Canada’s most exciting contemporary architects, Todd Saunders has lived and worked in Bergen, Norway since 1996, following his studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and McGill University.
We caught up with Todd to discuss his inspirations, his favourite Toronto building and what the next 10 years might add up to. Todd will be speaking at the AGO on March 14.
AGO: You were born in Newfoundland and studied in Montreal, but your studio is in Bergen. What took you to Norway?
Todd: I wanted to use architecture as a means to travel, because I can work from anywhere. After my master’s degree, I hitchhiked from Paris to Moscow, and along the way spent a ton of time in Norway, and really liked it.
AGO: The title of your upcoming talk is What Does 10 + 10 Equal? Can you explain that a bit?
Todd: I’ve always found that if you approached difficult conversations through facts, it’s much easier. I’ve always believed that two plus two equals four, but now that I’ve worked for 10 years, I’m wondering what does that add up to be? And if I work for another 10 years, what does that add up to mean? The talk is about looking back at what and how we’ve done things and what the future might look like.
AGO: Where do you look for inspiration?
Todd: I don’t look to architecture. The office is not my natural habitat. I spend a lot of time outside walking and hiking.
AGO: Do you have a favourite building in Toronto?
Todd: I do, but I haven’t seen it yet. It’s the Wong Dai Sin Temple, by Shim Sutcliffe Architects. It has an amazing cantilever design that I’ve only seen in pictures. I was on the jury in 2016 when it won a Governor General’s Medal for architecture. I want to see it when I’m in Toronto next week.
AGO: Your architecture has been described as “big on personality and short on fussy details”. Is there anything ornamental that you crave?
Todd: Well, that just describes a Newfoundlander, doesn’t it? Both Newfoundland and Scandinavian architecture is quite pared down, and based on needs, not wants. I like to boil buildings down to their essence, but I think about how buildings should look as much as how they function. I know that’s like swearing in church. Architects aren’t supposed to think about beauty, but I really do.
AGO: It’s been almost five years since Fogo Island Inn opened and it continues to garner praise as an model for economic renewal and artistic experimentation. Is it a model that can be repeated?
Todd: So many Canadians come from small towns, and they’re in positions to help their communities. Maybe not on the same scale – but we’ve been seeing smaller versions of this pop up all over the place. The key is making sure that whatever the project is, that the community is behind it. That’s why Fogo worked, that’s why it is so good. But the process and potential that can come from bringing business, architecture and philanthropy together is something I’m committed to.
Todd Saunders will be speaking at the AGO on Wednesday, March 14 at 7 pm in Jackman Hall. Tickets are still available, so book today!
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