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Nunavut to lead by example

Canadian design project to “stimulate” future Arctic architecture
Arctic Adaptations is supported by Architecture Canada, the Canadian Council of Arts, and The National Gallery of Canada (Image: Arctic Adaptations)

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A Canadian architecture group has designed a 15-year development plan for Nunavut in hopes to inspire new direction for architecture in the Arctic.

The collaborative project, Arctic Adaptations, addresses a range of environmental, economic and social pressures facing Nunavut and presents strategies regarding health, housing, education, and employment.

Lola Sheppard, architect and a curator of Arctic Adaptations, said the project aims stimulate architectural design ideas that can be implemented on a “larger territorial scale”.

“Whilst we don’t have the capacity at the moment to build these designs, the projects address very real issues,” she said. “The idea is to develop social and cultural infrastructure that can be shared, as well as develop solutions that can benefit more than one community.”

Arctic Adaptations will be presented in June at the 2014 Venice Biennale, and Sheppard said she hoped the project would engage many northern partners and governments.

“We want to generate a dialogue across the globe about what the role of architecture in the north could be in the future,” she said.

A vast Canadian collaboration
Initiated and led by Lateral Office, a research and design studio, the submissions were developed by five design teams, with participants from various Nunavut community organisations and Canadian architecture firms including Stantec, Fournier Gersovitz, Moss Drolet Architects, Pin/Taylor Architects, Yellowknife, Kobayashi + Zedda Architects Ltd. and Whitehorse.

The teams each consist of architects with experience in the north, a partner based in Nunavut, and a group of selected students from Dalhousie University, University of British Columbia, University of Manitoba, Université de Montréal and University of Toronto.

The projects are based on five different themes, including arts, education, health, housing and recreation, and are designed to “nurture [the] robust and vibrant northern communities”.

Not easy in Nunavut
Sheppard explained that Nunavut is undergoing significant change, and like many other Northern municipalities, consists of many “small, dispersed, and isolated communities”.

There are currently 26 settlements in Nunavut, posing a wide range of local and regional issues to be addressed. In parts of Nunavut air and soil temperatures are almost freezing all year round. Temperatures average at 3.3°C in July and plummet to -38°C on average in February.

Arctic Adaptations “envisions new architecture that is adaptive, responsive, and rooted in Nunavut’s unique geography, climate, and culture”, as explained by the designers.

According to Sheppard, there are many things that can be learnt from northern architecture, including new techniques of “resourcefulness, sustainability and innovation”.

“We’re also asking ourselves, could there be programming or building materials that could be hybridised between communities?” she said.

Following the Biennale, Arctic Adaptations will travel through Canada over a two-year period.

“The exhibition will look back on where Nunavut has come in the last 15 years, as well as looking forward,” Sheppard said. “Overall, it’s been a very interesting process.”