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.


Spotlight on Educational Projects

Many school boards or education departments have strict requirements for the design of schools.  In Newfoundland and Labrador the Department of Education publishes a working document called the School Planning Manual.  This document has some solid values including the construction of durable, long lasting, easily maintained and sustainable buildings.  While the School Planning Manual has rigid and prescriptive requirements, the people behind the book are open minded and interested in improving the manual.

Some designers may scoff at a book like this, but we love it!  Most clients who have built as many buildings as say the school board or provincial government will develop opinions and preferences on construction materials, systems and techniques.  Rather than spending lots of time figuring out what these preferences are, the School Planning Manual spells them out for us so we can spend our time on the design.

Where is there room to move?

The school planning manual takes care of the bricks and mortar so to speak.  That is, basic building materials, room sizes and rough layouts for some of the typical rooms.  We spend our time focusing on:

  • Organizing the building elements: Does the gym work better next to the lunch room or in the middle of all the classrooms?
  • The building location and orientation: Should the building be on the high or low point of the site?  Should the classrooms be facing North instead of South to reduce glare?
  • How does it all look: While the materials are suggested, in our experience if the materials achieve the same durability and are cost neutral, there is room for deviation from the School Planning Manual.  The colour of materials and the way they are composed on the building can make it look friendly and welcoming instead of ominous and cold.

Where are we stuck?

The school has a net-to-gross ratio which gives the percentage of the building that is programmed space, like classrooms, gym, offices, to unprogrammed space, like corridors or mechanical space.  The net-to-gross ratio has implications to the way the building works and there are some things that just aren’t possible like a courtyard or a corridor with classrooms on only one side.  These are elements that are often incorporated into projects for private clients, would it be worth it for public projects too like schools?


Portugal Cove-St. Philips School
Mealey Mountain Collegiate
Core Science Facility
New Academic Building 
Coley’s Point School
Early Achievers Montessori School


You may have noticed over on Prince Philip Drive that construction has started on Memorial’s newest building. The MUN Core Science Facility is a state-of-the-art research and teaching facility.  The idea for this building was spawned by the growing Science facility.  The building has flexible laboratory “neighbourhoods” and very advanced technical spaces.  The university realized that to innovate, you need the tools, but you also need a physical space conducive to innovation.  The multi-disciplinary facility provides dedicated spaces to the departments such biology, chemistry, physics and applied science while providing lots of casual meeting and student centred spaces.

For more information visit the project page


St. John’s is undergoing rapid urban growth and development. As this development happens there is the risk of community members, non-profit associations and small businesses to feel helpless, like they don’t have a say in what happens to their city. On a daily basis we deal with the development process and feel like in most circumstances both parties, the public and developers, have good intentions. Many times it’s the way we communicate that is flawed. To help build community we will use what we know best, architecture, as a way to change how we communicate and support the growing design culture in St. John’s.

We are set to launch a project called the Wandering Pavilion in summer 2016. The Wandering Pavilion is a temporary structure composed of a kit of parts: floor, wall and roof. (Four pieces of each) The Pavilion “wanders” from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in St. John’s throughout the summer. Its function changes in each location. At a festival it may be a sound booth, in a park it may be a stage for a performance, at the farmer’s market it may be a vegetable stand.

The goal of the Wandering Pavilion is to empower these individuals, groups and organizations to use the architecture and urbanism to make their communities better. The pavilion brings people together to start a proactive and positive discussion about the built environment, public space and community. What does your neighborhood need, a vegetable stand? If so, what does that look like, where would it go? The Wandering Pavilion provides the physical building blocks to see what this would look like, it makes your ideas a reality for a brief period. This temporary installation serves as a catalyst to show people what their ideas look like and bring the people together who can actually make it happen.

This fall we are holding public consultation sessions on the following dates:

  • Focus on Downtown East – October 27th 7:00-9:00pm at the Lantern on Barnes Road
  • Focus on Food – November 2nd, 2:00-4:00pm at Mallard Cottage
  • Focus on Quidi Vidi – November 4th, 7:00-9:00pm at Quidi Vidi Plantation
  • Focus on Downtown West – November 10th, 7:00-9:00pm at Victoria Park Poolhouse
  • Focus on Art – November 12th, 7:00-9:00pm at the Eastern Edge Gallery

If you’d like to stay in the loop you can follow us on facebooktwitter or visit our website. We are still looking for people to inhabit the pavilion, volunteer or sponsor the project, if you want to get involved contact Emily.

What would the Wandering Pavilion be to you?

Pavilion Uses


This is a place of wood.  From boat building to traditional stick frame construction, wood construction is deeply engrained in the history and building culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.  FMA has recently been recognized by the Maritime Lumber Bureau at the first inaugural wood design awards for the Southlands Community Centre. (Read more about the award in an article in Canadian Architect magazine) We thought we’d take this opportunity to tell you about why we use wood.

FMA has a rich history of wood use in architecture and has employed wood based systems at many scales. Firstly, the traditional light wood frame, or stick frame, has always been recognized by the firm as an effective structural approach. This basic system has been widely used locally for well over four centuries for its simplicity, adaptability and cost effectiveness. These are the same reasons why we see the value in continuing to design with this proven approach and to expand on its potential. The current FMA office building uses the traditional light wood frame and engineered wood as part of a non-traditional hybrid wood/steel/concrete structural system. This system allows for the inclusion of wood structurally where it typically would not be employed.

We also advocate for the use of larger, ‘heavy’ timber systems. Examples of such ‘heavy’ timber technologies, both emerging and established, can be seen in numerous FMA projects. Our firm was the first in Atlantic Canada to employ Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) panels for a built project. The combination of glulam beams with CLT panels creates a highly successful clear span structural system. Such wood components are both cost effective have an attractive material quality and meet fire regulations. In the case of heavy timber, wood can even outperform traditional steel structures in fire. Structural curves can also be effectively achieved in laminated wood members. FMA frequently relies on these unique properties to allow designs to take form.

We see wood not only as a traditional material but a truly modern material as well.

The ever growing presence of BIM design and modeling tools fit naturally with fabrication processes involved in modern ‘heavy timber’ production. Mass customization possibilities are now more attainable and more practical in wood based building products. This allows for greater design opportunity with an efficiency of production in building scales previously only open to steel or concrete. In the right cases, wood systems are proving to be more aesthetically desirable, more constructible and more affordable alternatives to the ‘traditional’ materials of steel and concrete. We are currently expanding the use of large scale customized laminated wood panels and beams to now include laminated wood as vertical structural support for a more complete wood based building system.

A frequent challenge to FMA when proposing wood for a project is overcoming preconceptions or misconceptions about wood in architecture. This applies more so to large scale wood products such as CLT or glulam. One of the biggest misconceptions is cost.  The  building performance and cost effectiveness of wood in large scale applications is frequently misunderstood and initially not recognized. These misconceptions have been exposed in our past work. To overcome these challenges, we have, and continue to push hard to educate parties involved and provide precedents as tools of understanding.

In a recent meeting to discuss a developing FMA project, a member of a local cultural community reaffirmed the choice for wood based building systems in saying, “Wood has a soul.”

Some notable projects which have wood elements, structural or otherwise are: the Nunatsiavut Assembly Building, Our Office at 172 Logy Bay Road, Southlands Community Centre and Paul Reynolds Community Centre and Pool which is currently under construction.


The purpose of the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards in Architecture is to recognize and celebrate excellence in architectural design in recently completed projects by Newfoundland and Labrador Architects. The award provides: - Recognition of excellence in architectural design by Newfoundland and Labrador Architects. - An opportunity to celebrate achievements of Newfoundland and Labrador Architects. - An opportunity to increase public understanding of the context and fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador architecture and to increase public understanding of how architecture reflects the society that builds it. - An opportunity to highlight the social, cultural, historical and economic forces expressed in Newfoundland and Labrador’s built environment. - An opportunity to foster the value of architecture in our daily lives. The award winning projects were selected by a jury of five individuals based on several principles the panel agreed to be important in design excellence. Sustainability – good design must address the energy and environmental challenges facing the design/construction industry. Replicability – Can it serve as a good example for other projects regionally, or nationally? Efficacy – The project should demonstrate efficiency in program, design, materials and operations. Appreciation for the profession – The value of an Architect in the design process must be evident. Elevate design – The project should reinforce the importance of design to the public. Source: Read the article