The Rebirth of Prefab
by James Mullinger
Along with many like-minded Atlantic Canadians, I chose to vacation close to home last summer. It seemed churlish not to on the 150th anniversary of this great country. While on a road trip researching an assignment on Nova Scotia for England’s The Guardian newspaper, I found myself at the Quarterdeck Beachside Villas and Grill. For those in the know it has been a staple of summer (or indeed winter) road trips for decades. But recently expanded by Nicholas Fudge Architects, the Quarterdeck’s true splendour hits and wows you from the second you lay eyes on it.
The Quarterdeck has been here a long time. And Nicholas Fudge is a relatively new architect. Not only do his unique eye and vision create properties — both residential and commercial — unlike any you’ve seen before, but most are prefab, designed and marketed through his company, East Coast Modern, and constructed by Lloyoll Built in their factory on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, and transported to the project site. His name is already synonymous with supermodern, luxurious buildings with a nod to their history. On more than one occasion we have heard colleagues describe properties as being “like Nicholas Fudge.” Fudge obtained his undergraduate degree from St. Francis Xavier University and his Master of Architecture from Dalhousie University. Before starting his own practice in 2013 he worked for Behnisch Architekten in Los Angeles and world-famous MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects in Halifax.
The Maritime Edit’s Editor-in-Chief James Mullinger met with Fudge to learn more.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Rather like the Fogo Island Inn, the Quarterdeck Lofts give a sucker punch of an impression but do not look out of place in their natural surroundings. Some people who may seem anti-progress might have been concerned about maintaining the heritage of the area when you designed and built them, but you have managed to address that. They look like they should always have been there.
NICHOLAS FUDGE: The site was a bit challenging so I am happy to hear that. Having the structure set back that far off the road meant that it wasn’t going to be an “in-your-face” type of building. Our client Greg Whynot, the Quarterdeck’s owner, was really inspired by the Fogo Island Inn. He felt that if they could make their concept successful in Newfoundland then it could be done here too. We have come to learn that architecture is not only about building something in a unique way but also about marketing it well — as they are doing at the Fogo Island Inn.
THE MARITIME EDIT: The lofts are so incredibly unique. How did the concept come about?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Greg knew he wanted a decidedly more modern vibe than that of the villas. Because we were designing 12 units a big thing for him was privacy, hence the recessed porches. He really wanted them to be different while taking advantage of the surrounding landscape. Each unit frames its own view, which is cool. Throughout his proprietorship he has built an incredibly loyal clientele. With the Quarterdeck Lofts he wanted to create a uniquely modern market and offer full amenities. If clients want to cook, great! If not, the restaurant is there too. Greg was really involved and it was a lot of fun working with him. I still can’t believe he built them — they’re that unique. We could not have done such an ambitious project without his input and support.
THE MARITIME EDIT: We loved them! We were there as tourists very new to the area. We were sitting in a hot tub with a family that has been going there for 30 years. The parents were there with their kids, who were in their twenties. They have been visiting the hotel since their kids were two and four. It was great because we were coming in fresh and loving it, and they were the seasoned clients who were adoring the changes.
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Transcending generations — what a great perspective.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Could you tell us about the Lake House project?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Sandy was our first client, which is often the hardest to get. He is excited about architecture and he gave us the freedom to go for it. We were really happy to sign him on. He grew up in Cape Breton and now lives in Toronto. He wanted to build a retreat for his family. For this client as well, the main concerns were privacy and taking advantage of the surrounding vistas. His wife likes to go to bed early and doesn’t want to hear what is going on elsewhere in the house. That sparked the idea of creating separate wings.
THE MARITIME EDIT: For projects as huge as the ones that you are working on, during the interview process, you must be interviewing the client as much as they are interviewing you. Obviously you don’t want to work with someone who isn’t open-minded and creative.
NICHOLAS FUDGE: That’s true and we’ve been really lucky. For the two projects just mentioned, we panelized them and Lloyoll built them in their factory in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Then we shipped them over to the site for assembly. Both of these clients were very interested in prefab. We might have done a modular construction with these ones, but we couldn’t because of ceiling height. And quite a bit of steel was involved. The client wanted the Lake House project framed up and sealed as fast as possible. We ended up assembling the 2,000-square-foot house in two days. The house became watertight very quickly. It was really exciting to see the construction come together. And we ended up getting the hotel job as a result of this project. They both went as well as they did in large part because of our collaborative process.
THE MARITIME EDIT: What is it specifically that clients like about the prefab concept?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Building in a controlled environment is a big bonus for clients, and there is less complexity because clients do not have to deal with the trades on-site. There is also a set price with modular builds, so customers don’t experience sticker shock at the end of construction. With panelized sites, the frame work is done in the factory. Once it is assembled on site, the drywallers, plumbers and so on start their work. Whereas with modular builds, 99 percent of the work is done in the factory. Finally, from an environmental perspective there is less waste, which makes it a much more sustainable way of building.
THE MARITIME EDIT: You started your firm in 2013, but it looks like you’ve done a colossal amount of work since then. How do you juggle all of these projects and the crossover that they must represent?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: We are really fortunate to have an amazing team. Nicholas Fudge Architects’ main focus is design, East Coast Modern’s is sales and marketing, while Lloyoll brings their expertise and fine craftsmanship to the build process. This is what makes us so unique — each company gets to focus on what they excel at, which makes the partnership work so well. Also, one advantage of prefab is that you are not reinventing the wheel for every project, which allows us to take on more projects. That being said, many of the prefab projects we are working on now are 100 percent custom for the client and the site.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Is the Subway that you built a mixed-use development with other businesses inside?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Yes. The owner has several businesses running out of that building. He has the Subway and a Goji’s Frozen Yogurt operating out of the main floor. His wife owns and runs a yoga studio with a roof deck on the top floor, and two apartments for some of the Subway employees are up there as well.
THE MARITIME EDIT: When you are assessing a client do creativity and forward thinking come into play?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: For sure. With the hotel, the client had already had a design done and yet he allowed us to propose a different idea, which he accepted. Our job is to show clients different concepts, which can be daunting for some but less so for the creative ones.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Do you feel that there is a shift happening on the East Coast, in that unlike, say, even three years ago, world-class architecture is available now? Have you noticed a new interest and a change in people’s attitudes toward architecture in this part of Canada?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Absolutely — 100 percent. There are so many young architects — like Omar Gandhi and Susan Fitzgerald — who were trained here under firms like MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple. A lot of people go to Dalhousie to study architecture, and then because they love it here they decide to stay. A lot of our clients are from the States, Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia. Many of them fell in love with it while visiting here. They also get a feel for the architecture available to them and make plans to retire here.
THE MARITIME EDIT: It’s interesting because there is this feeling here that every great idea is met with skepticism or the notion that “Oh, you can’t do that here.” Was there ever a time when you thought you would have to go to a larger city?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: Yes, for sure. What you just said reminds me of the initial backlash to Cabot Links. People were thinking it was ludicrous to build it there. But places like that — and the Fogo Island Inn — have been game-changers for these areas. We have come to understand that there is, in fact, a lot of opportunity here. When I first started working in architecture with a firm, it was very supportive of my taking on work on my own, so going out on my own evolved naturally. It didn’t feel like a big, scary jump. East Coast Modern started with a close friend calling me up and saying, “Hey, let’s prefab some bunkhouses for my cottage!” This got the ball rolling and eventually became East Coast Modern. I’m very grateful because the steps to where I am today have been really organic and natural. With all of these other firms popping up — great ones at that — I really don’t see it as competition but as a very positive environment that makes people more aware of different design, which creates more work for everyone. We also recognize that a lot more young people want to stay or move here. It’s beautiful. It is affordable to buy a house on the ocean, so a lot of creatives are either moving back home or staying and raising their families here on their terms. I read your story about moving to Saint John as a comedian, and it sounds like it was the same for you, that you moved back here for the quality of life.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Yes. I have to be honest. We thought it would be something of a compromise career-wise. And then we came here to find that, in fact, the opposite was true. Everything is here. We are able to do things here that we could not have done in London, in terms of my comedy and in terms of the magazine.
NICHOLAS FUDGE: I think that this is the great thing about your publication — the way that you are making people more aware of the wonderful things that are available here.
THE MARITIME EDIT: Where do you live?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: We live in the North End of Halifax and we love it. We have two children. They are nearly five and three. They walk to school, and my wife has a short commute to work. It’s great.
THE MARITIME EDIT: What are you are working on now?
NICHOLAS FUDGE: One of the most exciting projects that we are working on now is located on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. The house consists of 14 different prefab modules and a total of five separate dwellings including a sauna built into the hillside overlooking the ocean. It is wild. The client was 100 percent committed to modular but wanted an architecturally designed home at the same time. East Coast Modern was the perfect fit. I love what I do and will keep doing it forever.
This story originally appeared in [EDIT] magazine. To subscribe, please click here.