Zrudlo, Leo (2001) A search for cultural and contextual identity in contemporary Arctic architecture, Polar Record 37: 55-66

Keywords: architecture and designNunavikplanning

Leo Zrudlo questions the presences of Inuit identity in contemporary Arctic architecture. The author suggests an analytical framework for architecture to incorporate Inuit culture and identity into buildings. Zrudlo argues that design of Arctic buildings resembled low-cost houses or commercial, and industrial buildings in southern Canada. These buildings were generally rectangular with single or double sloping roofs and had no cultural or contextual references, except for caribou antlers that occasionally were attached over the doors of some Inuit houses. Zrudlo suggests this homogeneity of building architecture slowly erases the specific cultural characteristics of the Inuit.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the design of Arctic homes focused on providing shelter in a harsh environment at low-cost. Designs were focused on high insulation and efficient heating systems for the extreme low temperatures. Buildings were built in a short period of time to prevent building in permafrost conditions, to ensure fire safety in high-wind conditions, and had provisions for self-contained water and sewage systems. The result was houses made of prefabricated panels resting on wood raft foundations on permafrost, with a portable toilet, and reservoirs for potable water.

Zrudlo points out there have been some buildings that display images with a certain cultural/contextual sensitivity to the Arctic. He discusses eight projects, several were done with Université Laval, that have attempted to incorporate Inuit culture into design and architecture in northern Quebec: A conceptual project permitted two Inuit families to design their own house based on their needs (1973-75); a project examining whether triplex housing was appropriate for the Inuit in Kangiqsuk and Kuujjuaq (1980); an exploratory study for the design of a hospital in Povungnituk (1984); a hypothetical residential complex for the elderly in Povungnituk (1992); design of a local medical dispensary and social service centre in the Inuit/Cree village of Kuujjuarapik/Whapmagoostui (1993); design of a tourism complex for Kuujjuaq (1994); and the painting of the Centre d'Etudes Nordiques of Université Laval research station buildings in Kuujjuarapik/Whapmagoostui to reflect Inuit and Cree cultures (1994).

Zrudlo argues that Arctic architecture should deal with the forces of wind-blown snow, and the long 'polar night' needs to be addressed in the general planning of buildings and the design and placement of windows. Zrudlo discusses an analytical framework where culture can be represented at an abstract manner in any level of architectural representation. Doing so with the Inuit, can help foster their identity and of the region through these architectural elements. Zrudlo suggests 'borrowing' from Inuit culture in architecture could provide a link to their past.