Since my last post, I have been thinking about a comment I received after one of my first posts for the Fish Plant Project, if not the first. In response to the word architecture, it was suggested that this was perhaps too good a word to use in relation to these buildings; this from an industrial designer who worked on fish plant installations around the province of Newfoundland. Is this word reserved for only the “statement” or “landmark” buildings?
Is Art History only about the few great masterpieces declared as such by an expert? This is certainly not the case today. As Art History continues to evolve into a Visual Culture approach the objects and ideas that can are explored and researched come from wider and wider sources. When you think about it, every single object we interact with was designed by n artist at one point or another in its development.
Architecture is about our interactions with the environment. The structures and spaces created by our species to augment and support the adaptations acquired over the millennia of life on Earth. It can be a record of our achievements and it can also just be those structures created to house quotidian activity or the products of this activity. They can be built in a way that will withstand the rigours of time and environment, but they can also be disposable, destined for a mostly singular purpose and only be designed to be relatively temporary. Design can be about beauty or purpose; in the best cases about both; but humans, being subjected to socio-economic pressures and a tendency to taking the path of least resistance, will tend to look at things to provide the most economic solutions with a view of time that rarely spans more than a generation or two.
The fish plant is an interesting example of finding form and function while keeping an eye on profit. The structures I photographed are essentially shells, solidly built but shells nonetheless. They are designed so that they can quickly respond to market demand and change processing capability efficiently. Inside the shell,the machines and workstations are engineered to be temporary and able to be dismantled and moved at a moment’s notice to respond to the demands of processing varied species of fish and seafood. In some cases the community was built around them (Burgeo, Woody Point) and in others they are built at the edges of the community (Rocky Harbour, Diamond Cove). One comment from a business woman in Rocky Harbour was interesting in this regard. She stated; “…it is great to have the jobs created by the plant but I am glad that it is not in my back yard”.
As I work on editing the series of photographs, I am noticing several common traits to these structures that are a response to certain physical constraints of the industry; towers to dry equipment, cranes to unload catches, ice making facilities. They seem to share several identical design features and are part of what makes a fish plant recognizable. I am interested in how different construction materials are used and what this might say about processors vision of their place in the community or of their role in developing social structures within these same communities. Needless to say, there seems to be a lack of involvement with the social fabric other than providing place for citizens to provide labour in exchange for wages. This is not a sustainable way for industry to work in this era of corporate responsibility. This can be seen in the way a plant is abandoned when the catches are low and landings are restructured to react to economies of scale; the structures are simply left there to be reclaimed by the land. It is also seen in the lack of decoration or “personality” given to the buildings; other than one example (Parson’s Pond) I could not see any evidence of community involvement in the look and shape of these spaces.
In the end, this is architecture. The questions that need to be considered is how can these, most often, enormous structures exist in communities as almost invisible and non-invested spaces, how can buildings this big exist outside of the very structure of the community that surrounds it? The more I look at it the more I get a sense that profit, as much on the part of the processors as of the labour force, guides the construction and use of fish plants rather than principles of creating and sustaining vibrant and dynamic centres of community engagement.