“Living Lightly on the Earth”: Building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974-76

by Orion Series Lecture: Steve Mannell

Visiting Scholar: Steve Mannell


The Orion Series in Fine Arts proudly welcomes guest Steve Mannell, who will give an online lecture entitled, “Living Lightly on the Earth.”

Built 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 integrated ecological design features to provide a self-reliant life for a family. Like the design itself, the Ark’s opening day brought counterculture together with official culture: Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Premier Alex Campbell, New Alchemists and Appropriate Technology activists, and neighbours from traditional Island communities. Thousands more would visit the Ark over its short life.

This talk explores the story of the Ark and its architectural vision of life led in collaboration with nature. While its legacy includes today’s technically focused sustainable architecture, yet crucial lessons remain to be learned from the eco-social imagination of the Ark experiment.

Steven Mannell, NSAA, FRAIC, is founding Director of Dalhousie University’s international award-winning College of Sustainability, and led the College from 2008 to 2020. He is a practicing architect and Professor of Architecture. His research includes waterworks architecture and engineering, the conservation of modern built heritage, lightweight construction techniques, and the late 20th century emergence of “ecological” architecture. He is curator and author of Atlantic Modern: The Architecture of the Atlantic Provinces 1950-2000 (2001) and Living Lightly on the Earth: Building an Ark for Prince Edward Island 1974-76 (2016). His recent chapter “Environmental Architecture” (in Lam & Livesay, Canadian Modern Architecture, 2019) examines the origins, development, and potentials of sustainable built environments in Canada. He is currently expanding this study with a focus on the intersections of design and social movements.