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Courtesy of PEI Ark


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. [1]

 The Ark deployed many then-experimental technologies that remain emblems of sustainable design today: solar heating with thermal mass heat storage, an efficient wood stove, composting toilets, and a wind turbine generator for electric power. It embodied design approaches that were being explored in numerous environmental building experiments of the era, including passive solar orientation, highly insulated walls and roof, and minimized exterior surface and edges. What sets the Ark apart from other sustainable architecture projects of the 1970s and of today, is a commitment to transforming the lifestyle enabled by the building, through the integration of food production in a passive solar agri/aquaculture greenhouse, and through the direct engagement of the inhabitants in providing for their own life needs. In enabling a collaborative relationship between humanity and nature, the Ark drew upon the radical experiments in living of the1970s counterculture, as well as the rational methods of science. New Alchemists hoped that buildings like the Ark, “integrated with and dependent upon living systems, should have the effect of teaching us how the world works. Their inhabitants conceivably might become better stewards of the earth.” [2]

Solsearch Architects integrated the New Alchemist technologies into the design of the Ark. These innovative sustainable technologies included: 

  • Heating through solar panels, a rock and water heat storage basement, super-insulated walls and roof, minimization of exterior surfaces and edges, south-facing windows, ultraviolet and infrared-permeable glazing on the greenhouse windows, angled greenhouse windows that would reflect the winter sun onto the solar panels; 
  • High-efficiency kitchen appliances; 
  • An on-site wind turbine connected to the electrical grid; 
  • Composting toilets; 
  • A greenhouse for human food, fish food, and compositing; 
  • Aquaculture tanks for food production, plant fertilizer, and heat retention; and 
  • Local wood used to frame and clad the house.  [3]


[1]      “‘Living Lightly on the Earth’ Explores Building the Ark for Prince Edward Island.” Canadian Architect, October 17, 2016. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/ark-for-prince-edward-island/.

[2]       “Living Lightly on the Earth: Building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974-76.” Confederation Centre of the Arts. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://confederationcentre.com/whats-on/living-lightly-on-the-earth-building-an-ark-for-prince-edward-island-1974-76/.

[3]        “The PEI Ark By SolSearch Architects And The New Alchemy Institute.” houseporn.ca, May 2018. http://www.houseporn.ca/architecture/article/the_pei_ark_by_solsearch_architects_and_the_institute_of_new_alchemy.

Additional information:

“Forty Years Later, Exhibit Honours Ark Bioshelter in Eastern P.E.I.” SaltWire. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://www.saltwire.com/prince-edward-island/lifestyles/forty-years-later-exhibit-honours-ark-bioshelter-in-eastern-pei-109965/.

Leroux, John. “Living Lightly on the Earth.” Canadian Architect, March 2017.

“PEI Ark Project and Exhibition.” The PEI Ark Catalogue. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://peiark.com/.

“Remembering the Ark: Architectural Experiment in Sustainable Living Inspired Many .” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, May 23, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-ark-confederation-centre-arts-exhibit-1.3805330.

Sun, Wind and Wood. Canada: NFB, 1978. https://www.nfb.ca/film/sun_wind_and_wood/.

Project Title: Living lightly on the earth: building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974-76
Artists:  Solsearch Architects, New Alchemy Institute (original structure)
October 2016 – April 2017
September – December 2019

Spry Point, Prince Edward Island (original structure)
2016: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
2019: Fredericton, New Brunswick

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