"Living lightly on the earth"

Building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974–76

Reviewed by Andrew Workman

Posted September 15, 2020

A part of the Canadian Modern series from Dalhousie Architectural Press, “Living lightly on the earth” offers a comprehensive chronicle of the rise and fall of the Ark, a self-sustaining “bioshelter” built on Prince Edward Island in the 1970s.

Author Steven Mannell, founder of Dalhousie University’s College of Sustainability and a practising architect, uses numerous primary sources, including interviews with the Ark’s architects, to detail the theory behind and the making of the pioneering project. His book includes an abundance of architectural drawings, diagrams, and photographs that effectively illustrate the structure and its component systems from nearly every angle — inside and out.

The book also succeeds in relating the spirit of the era, capturing the ecological optimism of the New Alchemy team and the federal government’s enthusiasm regarding the project, as exemplified by former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

While the Ark was ultimately a short-lived experiment, much of its technology — such as integrated renewable-energy production, organic agriculture and aquaculture systems, and passive solar heating — is still relevant. This book could serve as both a reference and an inspiration for today’s “green” architects.

Buy this book from Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the October-November 2020 issue of Canada’s History.

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