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Inuinnait Elders fondly remember the traditional buildings they grew up in. They often speak of them as animate dwellings: spaces that actively shape daily life, and that need, in turn, to be cared for. These buildings breathe and communicate with the outside world, absorbing sunlight and fresh air, while keeping out dampness and cold. Like the weather and animals, they are an integral and intimate companion to human existence.


In alignment with these architectural values, we worked closely with our Elders and cultural experts to design a cultural workshop that could bridge the human and natural environments. The building responds to the natural features and topography of its landscape. The building’s southeastern facing position and large solar awning have been designed to actively absorb the sun’s heat and light during colder months, and to minimize passive solar overheating during the warmth of summer.


The building’s design centres on a large circular room for collective activity in homage to qalgiit, traditional snow houses built to accommodate community gathering. Three walls of windows bring in natural light and create a space that minimizes physical barriers between the indoors and outdoors. Vaulted ceilings in the main room converge at a central overhead skylight, bringing natural light in from above. The building’s entrance has been designed as a buffer between the outdoor temperatures and the inner main room, functioning much like

the ‘cold trap’ entrance of traditional igluit. Equal attention has been given to the ways in which the building’s temperature intersects with the cultural activities that will occur there, with colder areas designated for work with meat and hides, and warmed floors for Elders and community members to conduct their work. The building specifically allows for different temperatures to store skins, fabrics, tools, etc., each of which has their own optimal temperature profile.


Three additional rooms within the building serve specific cultural purposes. A mechanical room encloses the necessary parts of any modern building, providing a space to hide electrical panels, batteries, and water, heating and ventilation systems. A kitchen equips the building with plenty of fridge and freezer space for food and other items needing low temperatures, as well as washing and cleaning. Finally, a meeting room will allow for solitude, separate from the main room and hub of activity. It is a space for reflection, conducting interviews and engaging in work not compatible with large groups or activities.

An enclosed veranda at the rear of the building faces into the wind, and has been designed as a site for drying meats and hides in the summer, and as a walk-in freezer for storing foods and cultural materials during winter months.


The design of our cultural workshop was a collaborative process between Cambridge Bay Elders and cultural experts, SAIT's Green Building Technologies team, and northern and southern industry professionals.  Over the course of 9 months, we held weekly workshops designed to document and map cultural priorities for architectural space, and translate these into a highly energy-efficient structure. Inuinnaqtun language was prioritized for initial phases of design and blueprinting to maintain the integrity and intent of the physical and functional spaces it described. Engineers worked with Elders and language experts to translate these Inuinnaqtun spaces into ones that could be realized using innovative and energy efficient materials, such as high efficiency glazing, mold-proof and highly insulated structural panels, and solar awnings for energy production. 

Traditional Inuinnait structures formed the basis of our blueprinting process for the new building. Through discussions with Elders, key elements of traditional design and Inuit vernacular were identified. These included building modularity; temperature differentials for entrance ways, flooring and activity areas; the division of collective and domestic spaces; building orientation; food and cultural material storage strategies and indoor lighting and venting systems.   

In this video, Inuinnait Elders discuss traditional architectural strategies and building designs.  

Our team created its first floor plan for the building using Inuinnaqtun terminology. This design features a series of purpose specific modular rooms fixed to a central collective activity area. The modular approach was applied to research new possibilities for pre-fabrication through structurally insulated paneling and to experiment with concepts of addition/removal of building pods on an as-needed basis. The long entrance corridor of traditional snowhouses has been reimagined as a multi-staged entrance designed to create a buffer between warm interior temperatures and the outside cold. A high ceiling in the central room was designed for storage potential, with a top sky-light that emulated the traditional iglu vent (called a nose, or qingaq).   

The next version of our design began to focus on introducing energy efficiencies into the design. Spaces between the room pods were eliminated to decrease the amount of building surface exposed to blowing snow and wind. The size of the building was increased to accommodate renewable energy and mechanical equipment and to give more space to prioritized activity areas such as cooking. A second, wind-facing deck was added to the rear of the building to serve as a winter freezer for skins and cultural materials, and a summer production area for the preparation and drying of fish and meat. The entrance's air buffer was further improved through the additional of indoor insulated panels to further regulate temperature fluctuations. An adjustable in-floor heating system was added to warm the floor for certain cultural activities, while also being able to keep it cold for others. Extensive built-in storage space was added to the building's meeting room. The skylight was removed due to its amount of energy loss. 

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Click on the above image to visit our final site and building plans

The final focus of our design was realizing the building in three dimensions. Our industry partners ZS2, who manufacture the innovative structural panels that make up the floors, walls, and roof of the building, were able to create a structural plan for the building's assembly. Our partners at SAIT were able to further render the design into a site specific model that could help us picture how the building will be positioned in the landscape of our future cultural campus. 

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