Designing and doing

"Building something is really helpful to my future as an architect."

- July 8, 2011

Veronique Arseneau lays bricks on the exterior of the structure for the camera obscura. (Nick Pearce Photo)
Veronique Arseneau lays bricks on the exterior of the structure for the camera obscura. (Nick Pearce Photo)

For architecture students, there’s something quite wonderful about designing and doing.

Here, in tiny Cheverie on Nova Scotia’s Noel Shore, they’ve been sawing, hammering, mixing cement and bricklaying since the beginning of May, with time out for a road trip to New Orleans and Savannah.

What’s taking shape is getting a lot of attention: an unusual arch-shaped brick building referred to as “the egg.” It’s designed to house a camera obscura, which will make a projection of the tide moving the water in and out of the Bay of Fundy.

Reflection of the tides

“The idea is that there will be a periscope which will capture a reflection of what’s outside and project an image against markers will show the highs and lows of the tide,” explains Ryan Pendleton, a masters of architecture student from Kelowna, B.C. “It’s something nice for the community to have and be proud of.”

The shelter for the camera obscura is just a part of what’s planned for the site. An undersized culvert running under Highway 215 and linking Cheverie Creek to the Bay of Fundy had severely degraded the marsh. Since its replacement in 2003, members of the Cheverie Crossway Salt Marsh Society has been working diligently to restore the health of the salt marsh and encourage people to enjoy the area.

They’ve cleared a trail, constructed boardwalks over the marshy spots and put up birdhouses. As well as the structure constructed by Dal students, there are plans for an elevated look-off, interpretative panels to explain the tidal flow, salt marsh ecosystem and animal and plant life, and an interpretative centre that will act as a community focus.

Alongside Professor Ted Cavanagh, seven students in the Coastal Studio class have been working on site. The unique structure is located at the start of a trail, which meanders through the woods and alongside Cheverie Creek and the salt water marsh. It’s situated with an expansive view of the Upper Bay of Fundy; Cape Blomidon and Cape Split are two of the soft blue hills seen in the distance across the water.

The egg is actually a series of arches, one inside the other. They’re covered with three layers of thin interlocking bricks, a robust construction technique called Guastavino after the Spanish architect who developed it in the late 19th century.

“Getting hands on experience, learning about project management and building something is really helpful to my future as an architect,” says Cat Wong, from Vancouver, while working inside the dome. “It makes me understand what the mason is thinking and that understanding will make me a better designer.”

She adds: “What you’re making is a very pleasing thing. It’s tangible and you can admire it at the end.”

Plus, the students have been working outdoors in fairly nice weather. For the most part they say they were spared the rain that soaked Halifax through much of June.

Pink hard hat

“It’s so great to be outside,” says Veronique Arseneau, from Petit-Rocher, N.B., whose tanned face peeks out beneath a pink hard hat. “And Cheverie is such a great discovery. It’s so nice being here.”

Villagers have embraced the students, who’ve been staying at a bed-and-breakfast in nearby Summerville. They’ve been checking in on their progress and making sure they’re well fed and hydrated.

“They’re a good bunch,” says Cheverie resident Bill Garber, who arrives on the site to help pack up the tools at the end of the day. “We dreamt of having something that would be world class and this fits the bill.”

 LINK: Coastal Studio blog


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