Dawson, Peter (1995) Unsympathetic users: an ethnoarchaeological examination of Inuit responses to the changing nature of the built environment, Arctic 48(1): 71-80

Keywords: architecture and designgenderprefabricated housesThule Inuittraditional dwellings

This paper examines the effects of Euro-Canadian prefabricated housing on contemporary Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic. Crash housing programs in the 1950’s and 60’s saw traditional dwellings being almost instantaneously replaced by low-cost, prefabricated rental housing (p. 71). The buildings were often designed without any Aboriginal consultation, and reflected the household needs and values of Euro-Canadian southerners (p. 74)

Dawson asserts “that the ‘alien’ spatial environments of Euro-Canadian prefabricated housing may have had some effect on the interpersonal relations of eastern arctic Inuit” (p. 72) creating gendered power imbalances and interfering with conflict resolution practices (p. 72).

Floorplan analysis of prefabricated Inuit housing in comparison to traditional winter dwellings reveals that modern kitchens are much more spatially accessible and integrated than traditional ones (p. 77). Pre-contact, women were responsible for maintaining the crucially important lamp used for cooking, heating and lighting; as such, the kitchen and its configuration was their domain (p. 77). In semi-subterranean homes, the kitchen was often a bounded space off the living room. (p.78). Even in “open-concept” snow houses, access to the kitchen and food storage was managed by elder women (p. 78). However, in modern, pre-fabricated houses the kitchen is the most integrated room in Inuit houses. Dawson asserts that the loss of the explicitly women’s space has undermined women’s authority over the home (p. 78).

The author also discusses how the establishment of discrete bedrooms in prefabricated houses disrupted the practice of families and visitors sleeping in a single space in traditional dwellings (p. 78). Family members can now isolate themselves in bedrooms, whereas inhabiting a single space required that social conflicts be addressed immediately (p. 78).

Dawson further suggests that the foreign materials used to construct the prefabricated houses caused a symbolic devaluation of the living space (p. 78). He proposes that when semi-subterranean homes were formed from whale bones, they were highly valued as a consequence of whales being central in Thule Inuit culture (p. 78).