Image credit: SAIT GBT
In 2019, our team’s extensive research into green energy and building technologies put us in contact with Green Building Technologies (GBT) at the Southern Institute for Applied Technology (SAIT). A division of SAIT's Applied Research and Innovation Services, GBT has worked with industry partners to develop green technology, programs, systems and services since 2008. They specialize in providing training and education in green-building technologies, and advancing applied research and development towards the commercialization of green-building technologies.
While the partnership was initially intended to develop a pre-feasibility study for the construction of a green-energy driven facility, we realized there was very little available information regarding the performance for many sustainable materials technologies in Arctic conditions. It would also be difficult to build relevant cost estimates for the future project without first-hand experience of supply chains, local infrastructure, or the needs of the community. The unanticipated pandemic made it even more difficult to gather the information we needed. We quickly recognized the difficulty of innovating and being northern leaders in environmental and cultural design, when the success of a major facility was pending. There was simply no room for mistakes.
In 2021, we redirected our program towards the creation of a more manageable pilot structure that would allow us to test and monitor selected building materials, build partnerships and supply chains, and begin fostering the local capacity required to build, manage and operate our future facility. By prioritizing openness of project data and results, this joint research program will also allow us to address significant knowledge gaps in northern green and renewable architecture by creating, compiling and sharing detailed information regarding materials and technology performance, community knowledge and priorities, and live data from the ongoing monitoring of the pilot structure.
In May of 2021, we began the design of a 900 sq ft modular building as a customized cultural workspace and smaller-scale version of the final Inuinnait Knowledge Centre facility. This workspace is designed to bridge extensive research in local and traditional Inuit knowledge with recent advances in renewable and energy efficient materials and technologies--many of which have not yet undergone Arctic testing. It is also informed by the experiences of community members within their own homes, learning through their challenges and the solutions they design.
This pilot structure will be assembled by GBT and northern partners at SAIT's construction facilities in Calgary in May 2021, and shipped to the community for reconstruction in August 2021 following a detailed geo-technical study. The building will be used to test and monitor the performance of renewable/sustainable building materials and technologies in our Arctic environment to target Net-Zero goals, to develop key partnerships and track lessons learned, to test the supply chain, to develop realistic cost estimates for the final structure, to build local capacity for our final facility’s construction and maintenance, to develop a long term O&M plan, and to assess the replicability and applicability of selected building technologies to other projects and northern communities. The workspace is developed as a self-contained satellite hub, custom designed to facilitate traditional activities (preparation of skins, fabrication of traditional tools, sewing, etc.), and will be closely monitored and adjusted until December 2023 through workshops and site based activities to ensure its compatibility with desired cultural uses.
The findings from the workshop will form the basis of the technical feasibility study and final building design, on which construction will begin April 2024 and be completed by March 2026. The final energy efficient building is envisioned as approximately 3,500 square feet distributed on 2 floors (with an estimated first floor size of 2,500 square feet). This new space will accommodate the museum and the archives (with environmentally-controlled collections storage), an innovation hub (flexible space for entrepreneurs to try new concepts), community gathering space, a board room, office space, a dedicated space for the Elders and the northern research library. Community members have suggested taking advantage of the future site slope to integrate traditional subterranean storage and freezer spaces. In line with traditional Inuit architecture concepts of flexibility and modularity, the outdoor space around the building will be designed to accommodate seasonal activities-including meat preparation, hide drying, and outdoor cooking spaces- activities that are necessary for upholding traditional cultural ecosystems and ways of life. The building is specifically designed to help revitalize Inuit vernacular and spatial concepts that have been displaced by western architecture.
Our pilot project is built on the innovation and ingenuity of Inuinnait culture to solve building challenges in the North. This project is rooted in the community and relies heavily on stakeholder’s engagement process and local capacity building. Our approach to the design and delivery of the pilot building is grounded in three main concepts:
Inuit Architecture: PI/KHS has been working since 2016 to recover Inuinnait architectural concepts, principles and terminology through conversations and workshops with local Elders, land users, and knowledge holders, and by leading an Inuinnait Archaeology program documenting the evolution and evolution of regional architecture and its adaptation to systems of environmental and social change over the last 4000 years. We have held multiple workshops for participants to reflect on the overlap between language revitalization and cultural revival through the lens of traditional architecture. For example, language experts shared with the group Inuinnaqtun terms that were no longer used, due to the lack of cultural space designed to conduct a particular activity.
Local knowledge and needs assessment: In the spring of 2021, PI/KHS and GBT engaged with the community through meetings, workshops, design charrettes and dozens of interviews with local industry experts (construction and energy sector), home and cabin owners, Elders and knowledge keepers, traditional architecture experts and the municipal government. PI/KHS staff and our Board of Elders were actively engaged throughout the design process. We met regularly to discuss the vision for the space, the blueprints, the function of each separate room, and the compromises that we had to make. By keeping our staff engaged, we ensured that the space reflected the cultural needs and that it would perform well for each activity offered by the Centre. For example, as most cultural activities require participants to sit on the floor, staff indicated the need to have warm, soft flooring for sewing, while meat butchering and skin preparation required colder, harder surfaces; emphasizing the need for temperature differential within one space. Those comments were circled back to the design team and integrated into the next iteration of building plans. During those meetings, the Elders also reflected on the management of heat flow and light in traditional buildings; working with the KHS language expert, the Inuinnaqtun building environment terminology was captured.
Capacity building: The pilot program is specifically designed to build awareness of green and renewable energy and energy efficient infrastructure among community members and industry experts in Cambridge Bay. Local contractors and builders as well as a renewable energy firm (Qillaq Innovations, CHOU Consulting/Development and Aurora Energy Solutions) were involved at the onset of the project and throughout the entire design process. We are both learning from community identified challenges and solutions, and further building the community’s expertise by linking local entrepreneurs to the research team and industry experts, and creating an innovation hub for the community to explore and test new research areas (such as building automation systems and solar water heaters). By promoting and building local entrepreneurship capacity, we are ensuring that the project will be supported on-site during construction and throughout long-term operation and maintenance.
DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
Decreasing fossil fuel dependency and minimizing our environmental footprint is central to our work in creating a project pilot. The building is carefully designed to help us reach Net-Zero energy, minimize waste, and protect our water resources. We will be conducting an embodied carbon analysis to guide us in our choices of building materials, along with life cycle and disposal considerations, with all elements of design considered through both climate adaption and mitigation lenses. We will minimize site disturbance during construction and ensure that native tundra is restored to reduce the impact on the local ecosystem.
Key infrastructure concerns for this project include:
Energy efficiency: Research is being carried out with an objective of making this pilot highly energy efficient. Our first energy model produced based on the draft pilot structure shows a 37.6% energy reduction (24 MWh/yr) and a 19% GHG reduction (3.3 tCO2e/yr), compared to the base case (NECB compliance specifications).
Water, waste and embodied carbon: In addition to being designed as a highly energy efficient structure, we seek to include other green building design features, such as water efficient fixtures and low carbon materials. We will be conducting an embodied carbon analysis to guide us in our choices of building materials, along with life cycle and disposal considerations. The Municipality of Cambridge Bay does not have a recycling program or engineered landfill and burns all waste. By building the pilot structure in Calgary and dismantling it we are only shipping what we need, therefore reducing the amount of waste going to the community dump, reducing GHG emissions from shipping, waste transportation and incineration.
Climate Resiliency: Our first Climate Risk Assessment conducted in June-July 2021 highlighted several potential infrastructure and site vulnerabilities to a changing climate; some of the major concerns being permafrost degradation, terrain instability and seasonal meltwater and drainage issues that could impact the piece of land that we are leasing for construction. We are conducting a series of geotechnical studies of the site to assess the extent of these concerns and adjust the foundation design of our new building to adapt to them.
Minimize land disturbances: Next year, we will initiate the next phase of the project, which will be a re-vegetation and landscaping study. We would like to return the property to a natural tundra environment more suitable to cultural activities. The Board of Elders also requested to leave the drainage area undisturbed, and protect all natural features during construction. We are in discussion with several local professionals who might be able to guide attempts to 're-wild' the property with a focus on plants that are edible, medicinal and used for cultural purposes. We also think that we can landscape the property to help us mitigate the impacts of climate change, for example by slowing down the rain and melt water to protect our foundations.