We’re on the edge of the world, literally.  Our office in St. John’s, shares a peninsula with the eastern most point in North America, Cape Spear.  The far out geographic location is the reason for many of the things we love most about Newfoundland, like the scenery and an intact and vibrant culture.  Being way out here in the Atlantic Ocean also is cause for some strife like unrelenting weather and difficulties with construction.  The construction industry in Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the biggest challenges our office faces, namely difficulty in obtaining construction materials and skilled tradespeople.

It’s hard to get things to this island.  Construction materials have to come by plane, expensive, or boat, slow.  These two methods of transportation are also very susceptible to weather delays.  There is low stock available on the island, so if any changes or mistakes can be very difficult to accommodate.

When oil production peaked in 2007, so did our construction industry.  Tradespeople now had the opportunity for more jobs than ever.  Each construction site competed for workers with high paying infrastructure jobs such as oil platforms or mineral processing plants.  Since the peak of the construction industry we’ve seen a continual decline in the quality of construction as the builders were continually recruiting new labourers and tradespeople as the previous generation exits the market.

So how do we deal?  We try to be proactive!

Design for the local constraints.  We’ve come to learn what materials are available and what people know how to build, so we plan for it:  Simple designs with a minimal material palette.

Anticipate problems.  We’ve hired a few former contractors that have worked throughout the province including very remote communities in Northern Labrador.  These guys are always there to answer a question, review our drawings and play a key role advocating for our clients during construction.

Build in room for error.  We detail buildings so they are easy to build, but plan for failure or gaps in workmanship.  If water gets into a wall, we make sure there’s a way for it to get out before it gets all the way inside and causes damage.

The challenging construction industry has made us better designers.

We’ve gotten really close to the construction industry and have a pretty good understanding of what can be done here.  More time refining a building in the design phase can mean less time and headaches down the road.  Giving a building a simple shape like a rectangle doesn’t have to be boring, it can actually be quite beautiful!  The simplest things are sometimes the hardest to achieve, by the architect, but the easiest to build and maybe even the best to inhabit.

Pictured Above: Luxus Hotel, see full project profile here.

Related: New wood technologies like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) can help save time in construction, are more sustainable and look really nice to boot!  Read our article on wood here.