The Qammaq House By ArchTech And Wonder Inc. In Iqaluit, Nunavut

I'm sure you've heard the common phrase, "think outside the box", right? Well, today, we're talking about a man who flipped this expression by deciding to "stay within the box", so to speak.

How do you ask? Keep on reading to find out!

Let me begin by introducing you to The Qammaq House in Iqaluit, Nunavut - constructed using shipping containers! 




Are you familiar with Nunavut?

Located in northern Canada (in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago), Nunavut is home to -30°C winters and is only accessible through air or boat in the summertime.

Although Nunavut has harsh winters and is extremely remote, it has some breathtaking landscapes and offers many amazing outdoor activities and incredible Indigenous art and culture. 

With 39,353 residents, Iqaluit explores ways to make living long-term in Nunavut more affordable and accessible to its residents. On a quest to reduce the environmental footprint and be a solution to the housing shortage in the North, The Qammaq House will be the prototype of - hopefully - a new norm that brings affordable and durable shipping container homes. 



Video courtesy of the Government of Nunavut in English and Inuktitut.



Photo courtesy of Javid Jah, Wonder Inc.



The Qammaq House: A home inside a Box!

The Qammaq House was born when Alex Cook, an Inuk and Nunavut-native (pronounced “Noo-nah-voot” and meaning “our land”), approached Jason Halter of Wonder Inc., a Toronto-based interdisciplinary firm with expertise in shipping container homes for various climates across Canada and the U.S. 

With a large population of Indigenous population, the name of the project "Qammaq" is an Inuit word, meaning an insulated winter dwelling.

Cook, who is also the founder of the Iqaluit-based company ArchiTech, was looking to build his first home using shipping containers, but the real question is how does the Qammaq project aim to tackle the housing shortage in the North with steel shipping container homes? 

The idea is to ship the supplies that will be needed to build the home and use the shipping container as part of the construction. (Now, how often can you say that you've used both the product and the packaging it came in, too?)



Photo courtesy of Javid Jah, Wonder Inc.



Tackling Affordability Issues and Availability

According to 2020 Northern Housing Report by the CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation), Nunavut has the biggest housing shortage in Canada. The housing shortage has many factors at play, such as:

  • Nunavut's fast-growing population of young people
  • An ageing population,
  • The high cost of housing and home maintenance
  • And low availability

There are very few choices when buying a home in the North as supply is low and expensive. According to the 2016 report by NHC (Nunavut Housing Corporation), you would need an annual income of $139,000 to afford a single-detached home.

In 2018, the CMHC found that almost 40% of Iqaluit households could not secure market housing without some assistance. Moreover, Nunavut has the lowest vacancy rate in Canada at 0.2% for social and affordable housing.

Building a home in the North is not like building one in Southern Canada. It is much colder in the North (think permafrost grounds), has a much shorter construction season (from July to late September/early October), and the fact that this northern land is only accessible by air and water.

It also costs three times the amount to build a home in the north compared to the south, with utility expenses driving up the costs. While there are public housing units constructed by the Government of Nunavut, the supply can’t keep up with the demand (and I haven’t even mentioned the reduced SHA funding...)

The good news is that The Qammaq House is efficient compared to stick-built homes and made to last for 50 to 100 years. It also cuts costs and works around the short construction season in the North as it is estimated only to require 3-4 months to complete one home after a foundation has been built. (For context, traditional homes in the south take 12 to 14 months to build.) In terms of price, Cook and Halter’s Qammaq House will be competitive and available at the average home price. 



Photo courtesy of Travel Nunavut​.



Constructed for Northern Weather

Nunavut is a beautiful territory that enjoys the best of untouched nature and wildlife and the greatest winter sports. With dog sledding, cross-country skiing, river rafting and kayaking, there is plenty of nature to play in.

Although the weather changes by season and location, expect -27°C winters and 5°C - 25°C summers in Iqaluit. Because of high indoor humidity, mould is a common problem in Northern homes.

To tackle this dilemma, The Qammaq House will feature mould-resistant materials. An air-handling and dehumidification system in the house will make it so that 12 to 20 people can be accomodated in a room. The home will also be fire-resistant as Nunavut has had a high arson rate in the past few years.

Of course, it’s all in the details! The Qammaq House will feature triple-glazed windows to take advantage of the sun’s energy for its solar-panelled roof. Fibreglass framed windows will be installed, which suggests they will be more durable and effective than the frequently used composite windows (due to differences in expansion and contraction rates). This all means that The Qammaq House will be well insulated and warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It will also use less energy and will result in lower utility costs. Best part? It is also more environmentally friendly than traditional materials and requires lower maintenance.



Photo courtesy of Travel Nunavut.



Built for Northern Families and Culture 

The Qammaq House will feature an open-concept style that will accommodate multigenerational gatherings and large family households that is the norm in Northern culture. According to a 2016 census by CMHC, Nunavut has a larger household size than the national average, with 30.9% of total households needing bigger homes for bigger family size.

83% of the Nunavut population speaks the Inuit language (Inuinnaqtun), and English and French are frequently spoken. Northern culture is deeply associated with Inuit culture. 

With a society built on family and togetherness, a beautiful landscape to wake up to, it is no wonder that many people call Nunavut home.

I'm excited to see The Qammaq House's future impact on solving the housing shortage in Nunavut!


To see more architectural designs like this, head over to Wonder Inc. for well-designed and respectful architecture in northern Canada. 


Cultivating your interest in creative architectural designs that respond to their landscapes? Check out these posts: 

Earthship Landing In Lake Erie Ontario By Wind Chasers

The Straw Bale House In Cavan, Ontario By Scott Shields Architects

The Castleton Residence: Ontario’s First-Ever Rammed Earth Home

The PEI Ark By SolSearch Architects And The New Alchemy Institute

Meadow House By Ian Macdonald Architect Inc. In Caledon, Ontario


Researched and Written by May Lam, Writer and Editor, Centennial College, Toronto, Canada

Posted In: Nunavut

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