“Living Lightly on the Earth” explores building the ark for Prince Edward Island

Brought to life in 1976 by Solsearch Architects and the New Alchemy Institute as “an early exploration in weaving together the sun, wind, biology and architecture for the benefit of humanity,” the Ark bioshelter on P.E.I. integrated ecological design features to provide autonomous life support for a family.

Opening day for the Ark in the fall of ’76 mixed counterculture together with official culture: Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Premier Alex Campbell, Whole Earth Catalog compiler Stewart Brand, and hundreds from P.E.I.’s counterculture settlements and neighbouring traditional communities. Thousands more would visit the Ark in Spry Point, Kings County over its short life.

Forty years later, a new exhibition opening at Confederation Centre Art Gallery explores the story of the Ark for P.E.I., and its architectural vision of life led in collaboration with nature. “Living lightly on the earth:” building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974-76 opens this month and will be celebrated with an official opening reception on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. in the Gallery. The lead sponsor for the exhibition is PEI Energy Systems, A Veresen Company, with additional sponsorship from the Architects Association of P.E.I.

“Even today, many people in the Maritimes and around the world have heard of the P.E.I. Ark, and are inspired by the vision it represents; but it’s mostly understood in almost mythical terms,” reflects Exhibition Curator, Steven Mannell, who directs the College of Sustainability at Dalhousie University. “This exhibition presents the Ark as both a vision, and a reality. The Ark reminds us of the power of optimistic action in the face of seemingly overwhelming environmental problems, and challenges us to be similarly bold today.”

Marking the 40th anniversary of this innovative experiment into sustainable building in Canada, the exhibition includes architectural models and plans, photographs, texts and a new video featuring project architects David Bergmark and Ole Hammarlund. The exhibition and a companion book focus on the conception and building of the Ark; the opening day; and the early months of operation.

“The Ark Project offered us the opportunity of thinking outside the Architectural Box,” offers Bergmark. “Working with the New Alchemy Institute – an inspired organization committed to sustainable practices – shaped our thinking and ultimately our careers. The greatest impact wasn’t the Ark Project itself, it was the dialogue the Ark continues to inspire in our lives and work.”

This collaborative exhibition is produced by Confederation Centre Art Gallery with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and BGHJ Architects. Mannell’s exhibition team also included Assistant Curator Lukas Bergmark and Research Assistant Megan Peck. Gallery Director, Kevin Rice, says, “This exhibition presents a timely opportunity for Islanders to connect with an optimistic moment in our history and an important discussion of sustainability—which remains very relevant today.”

An accompanying website to this exhibition, PEIArk.com, is available for members of the public to share their own stories, photographs, and experiences of the P.E.I. Ark. The public is also invited to the opening reception on October 22 in the Art Gallery and the exhibition will remain on view until the end of April, 2017 to provide plentiful opportunity for Islanders to visit and school classes to arrange guided tours.

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