And finally… Architect sought for most isolated town on earth

A town which lies smack dab in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,000 miles from human civilisation, is looking to the outside world to plan its future for the first time in its history.

Tristan da Cunha and RIBA are staging a competition that’s unlike any other ever held. The isolated island, with only a few hundred inhabitants, wants to rethink what a communal, sustainable, extraordinarily self-sufficient town looks like.

It takes more than a week to get to Tristan by boat. When you do, you might not be able to land because the ocean swells are severe. There’s no airport. It’s a location so remote and unknown, it’s become almost mythical.

But while Tristanites prefer their way of life to any other, it’s still a struggle to survive on the island — and it’s getting harder. As its 200th anniversary approaches next year, the future of the island is in limbo, and the government is inviting designers from all over the world to think about its issues.

Competition organisers at RIBA said: “Tristan’s economy is however shrinking and the cost of living continues to rise. It is critical that cost-effective long-term solutions are found to improve the community, to make buildings energy efficient and reduce the living costs of the Island’s population.”

Almost every aspect of life on Tristan is fair game. For example, the island’s economy depends mainly on fishing, and the current harbour only allows docking 60 days out of the year. A better one is desperately needed. Farming is another crucial issue, so it’s asking designers to consider contemporary ideas about improving soil quality and agriculture management. Water (and drought) is also a major problem, so the brief encourages entrants to design a more modern system for maintaining and recycling water.

And the houses and buildings are another issue: the current structures are decaying and inefficient, and they’re badly need an overhaul. “Construction of the houses is variable, but lack of insulation, lack of central heating, the maritime damp and mould are common complaints,” explains the organisers. Tristan also wants to kick its diesel habit, and is asking participants to help it reach a goal of using 40 per cent renewable power within the next five years.

Even education is on the table, with designers asked to consider the infrastructure needed to bring vocational training programs to the island.

RIBA said the competition doesn’t guarantee that any of the designs will be implemented; after all, Tristan doesn’t have a budget or workforce for a massive overhaul. But what it will do is bring new ideas to an isolated community.

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