Dawson, Peter C. (2008) Unfriendly architecture: using observations of Inuit spatial behavior to design culturally sustaining houses in Arctic Canada, Housing Studies 23 (1): 111-128

Keywords: architecture and designArviat (Eskimo Point)socialityspatial activity patterns

This paper explores the effects of post-war housing programs on Inuit families in the Canadian Arctic through “space syntax analysis,” and by drawing upon agency theory. Dawson argues that the study of spatial activity patterns illustrates how existing house designs can be improved so that they better suit the needs of Inuit families. The spatial activity patterns of forty-seven Inuit families in Arviat, Nunavut were observed over an eight-week period. Families were visited several times during the day and during each visit, the observer would walk from room to room recording all moving and stationary activities. Categories of activity include socializing, sewing, maintenance of hunting and fishing equipment, craft-making, cooking, eating, storage, and personal needs.

Field observations revealed that individuals regularly spent over seventy percent of their time at houses of friends and family members. Individuals would often enter a house, join an activity such as watching television, leave, and then be replaced by another visitor. Inuit families emphasize individual privacy to a lesser degree than Euro-Canadian families. The practice of families sleeping together was common in Arviat. It was also common to see at least one large mattress in the living room. Bedrooms were frequently used for purposes other than sleeping (i.e. workshops, storage areas), which Dawson argues is evidence that the spatial uses of Inuit families are not reflected in Euro-Canadian house designs. To maximize the amount of usable space, families would remove kitchen tables and chairs to make room for others, and eat food while seated on the floor.

Dawson argues that these findings demonstrate that the typical Euro-Canadian house is not designed to accommodate the preparation of many Inuit foods or the communal meal arrangements of Inuit families. Items used by the Inuit, such as carving tools and rifles, require large well-ventilated storage spaces Dawson suggests that designing houses to meet the cultural needs of their occupants is essential for lower maintenance costs and improved standards of living.