Being an architect can sometimes be a frenetic and stressful job, and from time to time, one couldn’t be blamed for desperately wanting to “get away from it all”. Now, the perfect project for such an architect could be on the very distant horizon: the Royal Institute of British Architects has launched an ideas competition to help redesign the rural settlements of Tristan da Cunha, officially the most remote inhabited island in the world.
The competition is seeking “innovative, cost-effective” strategies to revamp the South Atlantic Island’s government buildings, improve the performance of residential properties, and redesign infrastructure to increase the productivity of the community’s agriculture.
The Welcome Sign. Via Wikiloc
If this this singular design brief appeals to you, don’t bank on a site visit any time soon: The island lies approximately 2,800 kilometers southwest of Cape Town; with no air strip, the only way to gain access is via a 7–10 day boat trip. The Island's main settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, is home to around 300 people, 100 private homes, two churches, a small harbor and one road. If you are tired of sprawling metropolises, maybe this job is for you…
Still interested? We thought so. Here are the four main areas to consider when conjuring up your entry for this complex challenge.
Tristan da Cunha. Via Wikipedia
The Islanders are calling for a strong focus on sustainable, energy-efficient solutions, as the remote community looks to become increasingly self-sufficient. The population is currently reliant upon diesel-powered generators and imported gas for heating and electricity, which is becoming increasingly unviable from an economic standpoint. Construction of a small solar farm has already commenced, due for completion this summer.
Tristan’s ambition is to meet at least 30-40% of its energy requirements via renewable sources by 2020. You might be wondering why more renewable strategies have not been put into practice already. Well, attempts have been made: a small wind turbine was installed on the Island in the 1980s, but it was promptly wiped out — somewhat ironically — by high winds. Robust solutions will clearly be necessary… which brings us seamlessly onto your next major challenge: the environment.
Calshot Harbor. Via British Photography
The design brief contains a list of environmental constraints that would make many an architect’s hair stand on end: The island is “ruled by the weather,” meaning that building supplies can only be brought in on extremely small boats during short windows of time, when the harbor is not being battered by vicious Atlantic waves.
Extreme weather is not the only natural challenge facing the Islanders and any incoming architects: Tristan’s primary feature is its volcano, which engulfed the Island’s first fish factory in lava when it erupted in 1961. While many architects might be geared up with techniques to produce wind and even wave-proof architecture, volcanic activity may need further research...
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Via Oceanwide Expeditions
The outrageous travel times and turbulent ocean conditions makes importing construction resources to Tristan a difficult and costly undertaking. This might lead to competition entrants considering proposals that incorporate locally sourced materials — but this approach will not be without its challenges. Most of the volcanic rock on the Island is unsuitable for construction, save for a small supply of sandy colored “soft-stone” rock, which can be cut into huge building blocks.
The majority of timber is imported and therefore extremely expensive. The Islanders have traditionally made good use out of driftwood salvaged from the many shipwrecks that have washed up over the decades, but this doesn’t seem like the most reliable resource for any architects looking for a vernacular solution...
Your next site location plan? Via 2Pix
As part of the redevelopment process, the Islanders are eager to acquire new knowledge and skills in construction and environmental strategies for long-term self-sufficiency. The design brief indicates that the ideal scenario would be to send trainers to Tristan for extended periods, helping to equip the Islanders with specialist expertise that will help them deliver the design proposals.
This strategy echoes the work of the late, great Architecture for Humanity and MASS Design Group, which frequently aims to empower local communities to help them develop their settlements long after the design team has departed. In Tristan, this means teaching the community about resilient construction techniques and advanced agrarian strategies to aid long-term prosperity of the island’s farms.
Aside from the plethora of extraordinary practicalities associated with the project, it will be crucial for firms to show that they have an understanding of the people living in this far-flung corner of the world. Competition entrants are being asked to “embrace and enhance the unique culture and heritage of the Island” by respecting the “setting, materiality, and spirit of the existing environment.” Indeed, tapping into the “spirit” of community life seems to hold the key in deciding which plucky practice secures this commission.
Check out the competition page for more details. Whoever wins, be sure to send the Architizer team a postcard — we’ll wait patiently during the few weeks or months it takes to arrive...
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