A paradigm shift in design
Like many Inuit people, I give great credence to visions, waking dreams. They often transcend time and space pointing to a new direction.
In 2010, on my tenth sojourn in the Arctic as a staff member on the Adventure Canada tour ship, between Gjao Haven and Kugluktuk, Nunavut, I had one of those powerful half awake dreams that took me to a time before humans had spread across the globe.
I was in a large, low domed structure with hundreds of people of every race and colour. Like a long delayed family reunion, there was the most overwhelming feeling of love. In the centre was a podium and representatives of each race rose to speak one by one. Like a family of kids excited about moving into a new home, choosing their new rooms, they spoke about which part of the planet they would make their home and how they would develop their culture to suit the local environment.
The last to speak had the colour and stature of an Inuit. He spoke as a representative of the parent race, so to speak, from which all coloured races had sprung. This person spoke in respectful loving terms as a parent would speak to grown children. He said: Our people will remain small in number and we will occupy the harshest territory of this great planet — the Arctic region. We will learn to survive within the extremes of this land and develop the skills of survival, for we know that this great planet cycles through many changes and at some time in the future when the weather on the planet becomes extreme, we will have developed the culture of survival to share with you all.
This was such a powerful message, tears came to my eyes as I arose and wandered out onto the deck in the bright clear light of the Arctic dawn. With this message came an image of a new form of architecture for living in an extreme climate — an image not unlike the place where that great meeting had taken place.
Throughout my varied career as an artist/ inventor, I have stood in awe of the inventive resilience of the Inuit culture. In the winters of the ’70s when our two boys were preteens and the snow was just right, we would build an igloo. I was so taken with the shape I adapted it to the design of the house that I would build for our family in the late ’80s. Twenty-five years has passed and we could not move back to conventional rectangular housing. With natural light from above, and the infinite feeling of the dome, it is like being outside yet protected from the harsh vagaries of the weather.
The concept I envision for extreme climates is a low-level dome, about 100 metres in diameter. Around the periphery are slightly wedge-shaped condominiums, each with an exterior entrance and storage area with the front of the condo opening to a central climate-controlled courtyard. Like our house, a central skylight opens and closes in accordance with the weather or the season and, when open, a mirror tracks the sun reflecting light inside. When closed, LED Lighting can be programmed to suit a more southerly daylight time period, eliminating the long months of darkness experienced in the High Arctic winter.
The dish-shaped foundation mirrors the domed roof allowing the whole structure to float while housing an energy storage system and the mechanical requirements that renders the unit an autonomous living system. Embedded tubes in the foundation transfer heat from the ground to floor level aiding in keeping the interior warm while maintaining stability in permafrost.
Current conventional housing in the North is not working. In the extended extreme cold of Arctic winter, the elderly and the young seldom venture forth; many are relegated to debilitating, extended periods of solitary confinement, a primary cause of depression and associated problems. The DomoQagg, as I call it, offers a year-round place of daily social interaction. It can be designed to be energy neutral with an economy of common services. Once the construction technique is developed, it can be constructed and maintained at a fraction of the cost of current prefab box houses. The DomoQagg is like a turtle that can close up tight when things are tough and open to be reenergized when there is light. There is an animation of the concept on YouTube:
Producing these structures in multiples is the only way to make them economical and it will take the initial capital input of all levels of government and private companies.
More boxes for the people of the North only exacerbates the current problems. There must be a paradigm shift in residential design. I offer this, a modern version of the traditional shapes of Inuit architecture, as a starting point, gleaned from the vision that had been shared with me in an Inuit way that morning in Coronation Gulf.
William A. Lishman, M.S.M., L.L.D. (Hon), is a Fellow of the Explorers Club and Royal Canadian Geographic Society.