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April 24, 2012

Do you have the Desire for Northern Living?

March 5-9, 2012, Alta, Norway

The Northern Housing Forum and the Borealis Conference joined in 2012 and organized a very fruitful programme for more than 80 people interested in the topic of “Desire for Northern Living”. And it was very interesting to listen to different speakers!

I must admit that I came mainly for the workshop on the last day, but I was fascinated by some of the topics. I listened to the presentations of architects, designers, builders and researchers dealing with not only buildings, but also with people who live in buildings, their comfort and indoor environment.

The first day was a mix of presentations describing various important buildings in the Arctic. One of them was a design of the Arctic Culture Center in Hammerfest. This building plays nicely with lighting of the external façade and a forest of columns provide a nice informal public space on the entry floor. The Sami Parliament of Norway bears resemblance to the shape of the tent. Presentations in the afternoon were about cultural and social circumstances in the North. Including these parameters in the building design can have an enormous impact on the proper design and comfortable use of the buildings in the Canadian Arctic regions. It seems that the Canadian researcher applied successfully some of the past knowledge and they use many of building practices in their projects, such as the charette (octagonal shape) building design where this building shape offers the smallest area exposed to the wind and thus provide the least of drifting and pressure on the building envelope.  The cushion foundation consisting of a high thermal performing material is an interesting building technique currently used in regions with permafrost.

The second day started with interesting information about 6,640 homeless people living in Alaska and many of these people have problems with chronic substance abuse or mental illness. Migrating to the North bring problems with spouses and their integration into a local labor market. The statement about the collective responsibility for children in Northern communities brought laugher from the audience when it was actually stated that many men in Arctic regions are “recycled”, i.e. they have 2-3 sets of children from various relationships. There was a big discussion about payback time for the thick walls and because today everything is driven by cost. The interesting statement was made about adding technical widgets (additional photovoltaics, wind or connection to a grid) just to gain points to achieve the GreenBuilding certificate instead of focusing on economical design efficiency.