Tristan da Cunha

South Atlantic Ocean
Tristan da Cunha Government with the UK Government Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Oval Partnership, in collaboration with Brock Carmichael Architects, has won a unique award in the RIBA International Competition to devise sustainable environmental improvements for the remotest island community in the world.

Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, midway between Africa and South America, the island, which is a British Overseas Territory, has a population of around 270, all located in the island’s only settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Accessible only by sea, the journey from Cape Town takes seven days and is only possible for part of the year.

The volcanic island has a marine tropical climate. Much of the activity on the island is subsistence farming, with potatoes the staple crop. Fish and lobster are exported. The only employment on the island is at the lobster processing facility, which is owned by a South African company.

All Tristan families are farmers, owning their own stock and tending Potato Patches and settlement gardens around houses built by themselves or by their ancestors. All land is communally owned, and stock numbers are strictly controlled to both conserve pasture and to prevent better off families accumulating wealth. No 'outsiders' are allowed to buy land or settle on Tristan - despite many applications to join a society often referred to as 'Utopian'.


The competition brief called for designs for new buildings for the island’s eleven government departments, together with recommendations for improvements to existing dwelling houses and proposals to make the island self sufficient in energy.

With wide-ranging technical input from ArupInternational Development and specialist advice on working with small tight-knit communities from environmental psychologist Dr. Gerda Speller, the Oval/BCA team prepared designs for a new complex of energy efficient administrative buildings together with a menu of practical and deliverable improvements to existing dwellings.

The new public buildings will be organised round community greenhouses and cloister gardens in a central location while the dispersed structures that used to house these facilities will be re-used as process buildings of varying kinds – eg. glass re-cycling.

Winning Entry, RIBA International Competition to devise strategies for a more sustainable future for the remote island of Tristan da Cunha.