Arctic Adaptations was Canada’s official submission to the 2014 Venice Biennale in Architecture, in timely with Nunavut’s 15th birthday which won special mention (a first for Canada!). The project looks back over Nunavut’s young life as a territory, along with looking ahead 15 years to consider new architecture that is adaptive to indigenous response to modernity. Arctic Adaptations was initiated and curated by the design-research studio Lateral Office, who studied the region for several years and ultimately collaborated with students, architects, and Nunavummiut in developing architectural proposals which engage the communities, as well as the territory as a whole. It continues to be common practice to import southern knowledge to the north in terms of education, infrastructure, and food, when the southern cannon simply cannot be applied to Nunavut’s geography and resources. Arctic Adaptations is providing a contemporary partnership with traditional knowledge, and the fast development of a younger population (60% of Nunavut’s population is under the age of 24). The project features architecture that confronts environmental, climatological, social, and economic challenges.

Arctic Adaptations exhibits three elements: soapstone carvings, topographic maps with photographs of each community, and a series of architectural models with animations that venture a 15 year vision which deals with current challenges in access and delivery of housing, health, arts, education, and recreation. The show is aesthetically intriguing with cool colours, elegant white maps and lights, and decorative poles which allude to the quiet and vast tundra.

The soapstone carvings are familiar buildings in Nunavut that were done in collaboration with Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA). Workshops were hosted in communities where carvers created beautiful edifices out of different colours of soapstone; which creates a unique juxtaposition to some buildings that resemble space age architecture, to little residential houses complete with gas tanks and porches, all made out of a traditional material.

Image: A series of 12 soapstone carvings by Inuit artists document key Nunavut buildings and typologies from the 20th century; courtesy Lateral Office.

Arctic Adaptations comments on very real issues, the awareness is to develop architectural solutions to incorporate social and cultural infrastructure that can be shared throughout the territory. Within the exhibition there are 5 different tables which plan a 15 year strategy associated with arts, recreation, education, housing, and health. For each table there are three different scales: architecture, territorial, and community and each have their own animations. In Nunavut there are no roads, there are no trees, the land is permanently frozen, there is no sun in January, and no darkness in June and the proposals in Arctic Adaptations take all of these elements into consideration and highlight the unique challenges Nunavut faces within the animations.

Along the walls of the gallery are captivating stylized topographical maps of the 25 communities of Nunavut with photographs for each community. The photographs were collected over two years (2013-2014) in collaboration with Nick Illauq, an Inuk photographer based in Clyde River, and include 25 original photographs from residents which were collected during a community engagement photo contest.

Image: Arctic Bay, Nunavut; photograph by Bobby Kilabuk, 2014.

Arctic Adaptations Nunavut at 15 is exhibiting alongside Found, Forged, and Fused. Both shows provide a wonderful look into the extraordinary qualities that the north has to offer. From crafts to architecture, you will spend hours looking at the detailed craftsmanship of Yukoner’s and exploring innovative solutions to an extraordinary territory.

Don’t miss Arctic Adaptations, in the Yukon Arts Centre Public Gallery until Saturday August 29.

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