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AZ Awards 2022 Winner: Peggy’s Cove Infrastructure Improvement Strategy by Omar Gandhi Architect

With its windswept, rocky shore, quaint shingled buildings and historic lighthouse, the village of Peggy’s Cove is the ultimate reflection of the East Coast’s rustic beauty. But despite some 700,000-plus annual visitors, the site had seen little in the way of improvement over the years and lacked both sufficient public washrooms and modern accessibility features.

When the pandemic brought tourism to a standstill in 2020, publicly owned corporation Develop Nova Scotia accelerated plans to bring the site up to date. They enlisted Omar Gandhi Architect to create a viewing platform that honoured the cove’s unique location while making it accessible to all.

New washroom facilities introduced alongside the viewing deck mimic the hip roof of a former lighthouse keeper’s home.

Designing washroom facilities and a viewing deck may sound relatively straightforward, but the high-profile nature of the site necessitated extensive consultations with local community members, many of whom were initially wary of the project. “Everyone has a vision of what Peggy’s Cove is and what it means to them,” says Jordan Rice, the architect who oversaw the project for the studio. As such, he says, the community had strong opinions about what the final design should — and shouldn’t — be. “It was very clear through our consultation that it should feel familiar and not too fancy,” says Rice. “They wanted it to feel like it’s of this place and belongs to the people here.”

The new viewing platform, inaugurated in October 2021, uses local materials and maritime motifs to blend into the landscape while offering a fully accessible space from which to admire the cove’s famous ocean views. Rice and his team took inspiration from the village’s past and present, referencing photos of the former lighthouse keeper’s home to inspire the symmetrical hip roof of the public washroom buildings.

Clad in eastern white cedar — as are many of the village’s other shingled buildings — the structures and viewing deck will age over time into the same rich silvery grey as the local granite. Steel mesh, meanwhile, proved an ideal material for the viewing platform’s guardrail — able to withstand the area’s strong winds and sea spray while calling to mind lobster traps and fishing nets.

Omar Gandhi Architect conducted extensive wave and sea-level modelling to determine an elevation that would provide protection from the coastline without obscuring key sightlines. A durable steel mesh guardrail integrated into the structure will withstand the elements.

To ensure the project met the standards soon to be formalized under the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, Rice and his team worked closely with Gerry Post, the former executive director of the Government of Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate. Alongside a team of universal design advocates recruited from the surrounding community, Post toured the site during construction and showed the architects where they could improve, from including an adult change table in the washroom area to better accommodating a range of mobility aids.

Clad in eastern white cedar, the platform incorporates ramps, hand-rails and tactile indicators to transform a challenging landscape into an accessible attraction.

It had been years since Post, who uses a wheelchair himself, had last visited Peggy’s Cove. “It was emotional for me,” he says of attending the site’s official reopening in October. “Quite often, there’s too much emphasis on the form of a building and the function is forgotten, but this is a wonderful balance,” he says. “Forget about wheelchairs — it’s just a beautiful platform for everybody.”

Walkway at Peggy's Cove by Omar Gandhi Architects
The Wonderful New Walkway at Peggy’s Cove

Sea change arrives in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, via an accessible new viewing platform by Omar Gandhi Architect.

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