Island Updates

Island Design Assembly enriches Hurricane Island

Video by CMG Fellow Wilder Nicholson

Photos courtesy of Island Design Assembly

In 2012, on Bear Island in the northern part of Penobscot Bay, John McLeod and Steve Kredell, two architects from Middlebury, Vermont, gave light to an idea that had been percolating between them for many years.  They had visited the island many years before with Jonathan Marvel, an architect from New York City who’s family owned it over the years. Bear Island already has a rich history of architecture and design, having been the summer home of Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, designer, and inventor who is best know for his geodesic domes and “Spaceship Earth”. Somewhere in the years that passed between their visit to this small Maine island, years that took them from a large firm in NYC and brought them together to form their own firm in Middlebury (McLeod Kredell Architects) and to begin teaching at local colleges, they decided to make this idea something real.  The idea: to bring a group of students, architects, educators and builders together in a remote place, to live-design, build and install a community based project. With that, in 2012 the Bear Island Design Assembly (BIDA) was formed.  In concept, it’s a design-build program, but the outcome, both in form, function, and at the core of the experiences, is something much more. 

During the first year of the program in 2012, students designed and built benches for Bear Island and spent a day on Hurricane Island visiting a former Middlebury student and now former Hurricane Island Foundation employee, Addison Godine. The group helped in the early stages of design renovation of the Hurricane Galley and office space: demolition.  It was through Addison that I became involved and, in 2013, was fortunate enough spend the latter part of the week during the construction phase of the project.  It was there on Bear Island that I became intrigued and captured by the concept and execution of this program.  As the program evolved a theme emerged of designing and building structures for year-round Maine island schools that had some agricultural connection.  The projects in 2013 and 2014 were in the community of Islesboro Island for the Islesboro Central School, where a farm stand and two variations on chicken tractors were built.  In 2015, the program moved further south down the bay to North Haven Island for a composting project, the result was the “Compost Commons”, or in relation to the form, the “compost towers”. 

Throughout those first few years of the program many conversations took place between participants and instructors to look at the purpose, vision and mission of the program and to look forward at what it could become, as each year the program began to form and evolve and, as in architecture and design, the form and function work symbiotically together.  In the late fall of 2015, John and Steve decided to move the program away from Bear Island to Hurricane Island. With the move they decided to change the name to the Island Design Assembly (IDA), a change that perhaps will allow the program to continually be nimble and innovative and to not be limited by geography or place.

On the final day of August, the group of 12 participants and 4 instructors took the Maine State Ferry to Vinalhaven Island to do a site visit at the Vinalhaven School and to meet with the superintendent of the school, Bruce Mailloux, and the Alan Koenig, the Facilities Manager to get an understanding of the project parameters, site location, and to get an sense of the island and school community.  This year the purpose of the project was to create a “greenhouse” for the school that would provide both functional growing capabilities but also would serve as an educational space. As with all the projects to date, there is a direct connection between the a representative of the project and the instructors ahead of time to gain an understanding of the need of the project, how it is intended to be used, and what the ideal outcome would be. However, by intention there is no discussion about what the final product will be as that is the purpose of the program, to allow the design process the opportunity to develop something that is unique and that perhaps defies custom and convention.

From Vinalhaven, the group was transported to Hurricane to settle in and to begin to immerse themselves in the process of the Island Design Assembly.  The classroom on Hurricane was transformed into a design studio where, over the course of the first 24 hours, the group dove into the design process where they discussed and developed a collective understanding of the project parameters and began forming concepts into scaled models to present and discuss, modify and change into a final design scheme that the collective agreed upon.  The next stage is to break the design down into individual components, not only to create a material list, but also with the understanding that whatever is built within the project must be transported off Hurricane to Vinalhaven. 

On day 4 the materials were delivered from Viking Lumber on Vinalhaven, transported to Hurricane and the building began.  Under the direction of master builder Alex Carver (co-owner of Northern Timbers Construction), participants learned how to safely use hand and power tools and then divided into groups to start construction of the greenhouse structure and the “planterns.”  The days were long, but the group found time to explore the island, take frequent swims in the Sound, and to get to know Hurricane.

The final day involved loading the component parts of the structure onto Hurricane’s boat, the Eastern Flyer and 5th Generation, to be transported to Carver’s Harbor on Vinalhaven.  From there, the pieces were brought to school and assembled on location amidst the elementary school recess.  Immediately there were students that were exploring the greenhouse and asking lots of questions with great excitement about starting garden clubs and planting seeds in the spring.

We are delighted to be able to support the Island Design Assembly on Hurricane and to continue to support the exciting and innovative design process that ultimately helps support the year round island communities and schools of Penobscot Bay.  We are already looking forward to IDA 2017!

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