New Cambridge Bay workspace to be a community-wide effort
Planners hope their approach will change the game for sustainable architecture in the Arctic
A new workspace in Cambridge Bay will bring together cultural revitalization and sustainable architecture in the Canadian Arctic.
The Kuugalak cultural workspace, a project of the Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society, is a greenspace that will provide elders and other community members easy access to the land, as well as an indoor space that’s functional for traditional activities.
The 1,200-square-foot space will cost $1.7-million to complete and will help the society expand from the May Hakongak cultural centre and library, where it currently operates.
The name Kuugalak comes from the waterway adjacent to the new building. Local elders say the water used to run wide and deep, but has been reduced to a small creek due to climate change.
The design for the space emerged from a combination of local archeology, elder recollections of traditional architecture, and dozens of interviews with homeowners and builders.
The hope is that the space becomes an example for climate adaptation and cultural revitalization, said the society’s chief finance and operations officer Kim Crockatt.
“We’re proud of the fact that we brought together engineers and architects and married [their ideas] with things that are really important to the elders,” she said.
“Our community will benefit because some of the design can be incorporated into building new, sustainable housing as well.”
Elders from the community have also been at the forefront of conversations around development and construction of the space, according to executive director Emily Angulalik.
“Right from the start, the elders have been involved in how [the space] should look and how effective the building will be when we’re doing activities with traditional knowledge like toolmaking,” she said.
Crockatt said feedback from elders on the space’s design has been invaluable, like ensuring the floor is warm so they can work comfortably, and that the open space at the back where they dry meat and fish is closed off.
“It’s just incredible how the building changed as the elders brought their ideas forward,” she said.
Brendan Griebel, project lead and manager for collections and archives at the society, said an important component of the project has also been to ensure all parts of the construction process, including selecting materials, are inclusive of tradition and culture.
“We quite literally thought about how we could be building from Cambridge Bay rather than following this pattern of having southern architects and community planners and infrastructure that is basically picked up from the south and dropped in the North,” he said.
“We didn’t want to be flying up people to fix something every time it breaks. We wanted materials that are responsive to the cultural activities that are going to be happening inside the building. And we wanted something that was replicable as well.”
The structure and design of the Kuugalak workspace will also serve as a research tool to better understand the performance and efficacy of renewable and energy-efficient technologies in Arctic conditions.
Part of the process will include monitoring the building’s performance 24 hours a day in the years following construction, to help researchers evaluate its success and potential for replication and scaling for future construction across the territory.
The design of Kuugalak incorporates traditional and archeological knowledge of architecture, including learning from the way igloos and traditional longhouses were constructed and incorporating elements from them into modern construction practices.
The pilot structure for the workspace will be assembled at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology construction facilities in Calgary later this month.
The institute will ship the structure to Cambridge Bay for reconstruction by the team this fall.