Canada’s Architecture on Edge: The Future of Nunavut

At the 14th International Venice Biennale for Architecture this year, the Canadian Pavilion's exhibition received attention, praise, and a prize of Special Mention- a first time for Canada. The exhibition, Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15 was the fruit of Toronto-based experimental design lab Lateral Office. In collaboration with organizations and artists in Nunavut and abroad, Lateral Office's exhibition proposed a new agenda for architecture in Nunavut that merges tradition with contemporary.

While Nunavut is characterized by its remote arctic landscapes and Inuit lifestyle, little more is known about this extraordinary region. Nunavut is the newest, largest, and northernmost territory of Canada (having separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999). With a population of roughly 31 000 inhabitants (in an area of over 2 million square kilometers), Nunavut stands to be the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world. These unique conditions in climate, population density, and lack of highways connecting communities create challenges in access and delivery of housing, healthcare, arts, education, and recreation. These programs are at the forefront of architectural agendas. Arctic Adaptations explores these conditions.

The first element takes the form of soapstone carvings, rendered in collaboration between Lateral Office and Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association. The carvings are small-scale reproductions of prominent buildings in Nunavut communities.


Photo courtesy of Nico Saieh


The final vision displayed models of the projected 15 year program for the communities in Nunavut. With a region of extreme conditions and little modern connectivity, the absorption of modernity (the Biennale's international theme) is hardly an organic process. Responding to a place of sub-zero temperatures, difficult accessibility, and at times no daylight, the architectural future of Nunavut is one of innovation and opportunity. The unique demands of Nunavut force us to re-think and re-imagine the possibilities of architecture and the universalizing of modernity.



Photo courtesy of Nico Saieh 



The exhibition's success came from shedding light on a part of Canada whose history is embedded in negotiation with modernity. Rather than a process of absorption (as the biennale's theme poses), modernity has been largely a process of adaptation, negotiation, and at times resist for the Inuit people of Nunavut. While modernity's restructuring has largely been a colonial tool for erasure for the Inuit people, the architecture of Arctic Adaptations is focused on collaboration to preserve and expand the special culture of Nunavut. The exhibition reveals the positive potentials for architecture in balancing preservation with innovation to facilitate new and vibrant possibilities for Arctic communities.

Innovations in Arctic housing design are already shaping the Nunavut landscape, including geodesic dome shelters.



Photo courtesy of Wendy Mann



Canadian architect of the North, Richard Carbonnier designed this tubular home in Nunavut to resolve some of the air circulation challenges associated with the geodesic dome.



Photo courtesy of Mike Beauregard



Native Canadian artist Alex Janvier designed this mural for the lobby of the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.



Photo courtesy of Mike Beauregard



An igloo is used for temporary shelter during winter hunting (image below) while the Qaggiq, an Inuit communal igloo is used for celebrating the welcome of Spring with feasting, singing and games. 



Photo courtesy of US Embassy Canada



Modernizing architecture for Nunavut is not a levelling out of culture and tradition, but maximizing the potential of what presently exists and is cherished by the unique arctic region of Nunavut.

To view more of Lateral Office's unique projects, click here.


Researched and written by Sara Nicole England, undergraduate of OCAD University, Criticism and Curatorial Practice.

Posted In: Nunavut

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