Pond’s Martian mansion

“It’s a figment of my imagination. I haven’t seen anything like it before”



It looks like Martians have landed in Pond Inlet, where an odd structure crouches on a nearby hillside. It resembles three enormous pop cans fused together, standing one and a half metres above the tundra on three pointy legs.

In fact, it’s a prototype home being built by Richard Carbonnier, an architect who works by day as a project officer for the Government of Nunavut, and spends his evenings single-handedly labouring away on this odd creation.

“It’s not science fiction,” he says, during a telephone interview last Friday.

When finished, the building will be a two-bedroom, 1,100 square foot home, which Carbonnier calls “Inuksuk Residence” – a name he feels is appropriate, since he says the building stands “like a landmark” on the hillside.

It certainly stands out. Carbonnier even claims the curvy design reminds Inuit of an igloo. But that’s not what first crossed the mind of Pond Inlet’s mayor, David Qamaniq.

“When he first started to build it, it sort of looked like it was some kind of a launch pad for a space shuttle,” Qamaniq says with a laugh.

Carbonnier says the tripod design is far more stable than a typical, four-cornered home, and that this will be important if the climate continues to warm, and permafrost continues to melt.

In the Nunavik community of Salluit, some buildings have already begun to buckle as their foundations sink into a boggy mess. But Carbonnier believes his building would simply tilt to one side if the permafrost melted, and he says this could be easily fixed.

“If the home goes crooked, I go beneath it with a five-tonne jack and I jack it up,” Carbonnier says.

The three stilts also serve to keep the building high in the air, to prevent snowdrifts from piling up against the home’s side, Carbonnier says.

He says a similar stilt design is being used for new research stations being built in Antarctica, to solve the problem of snowdrifts burying existing buildings.

And the same principle is being applied by the City of Iqaluit, which plans to remove the skirting around houses that are frequently buried by snowdrifts in the Road to Nowhere subdivision, so that snow can blow beneath the houses.

Carbonnier’s building stands on three floating footings – foundations that don’t extend below the frost line, which he says he put in the ground last summer with nothing more than a pick and shovel.

That means there’s less impact on the tundra compared to drilling several dozen piles into the ground, Carbonnier says, and it costs far less than a typical foundation.

As for the odd, tube-shaped design, Carbonnier says the curves allow the building to stand up to high winds better than a conventional design. He says the hillside location means the building has already been exposed to 80 km/hr gusts, and it’s holding up fine.

Inside, the ceiling is more than 10 feet tall in the centre of each room, and gently slopes down to become the walls. Carbonnier says the curved wall will brush your shoulder before you bump your head against the sloping ceiling.

Carbonnier says the building is an attempt at building a more eco-friendly Arctic dwelling. He first developed an early blueprint back in 1992, when he worked on a doctorate in architecture that he never finished.

He originally envisioned the building to be mounted on wheels, or skis, so it could easily be moved from one location to another.

He says the igloo now influences his building’s design, which has been built with the entrance lower than the rest of the rooms, to prevent warm air from escaping, much like the cold trap of an igloo.

The only windows in the home are at the end of each tube, as well as a skylight in the centre of the building, above the kitchen.

The living room will face north, with a balcony and view of Bylot Island in the distance.

The home will have two bedrooms, although the master bedroom is large enough to be subdivided in two, he says.

As for the cost of construction, Carbonnier believes it will be comparable to more conventional homes. Materials cost about $60,000, and he estimates a contractor could build a similar model for about $210,000.

And he believes that cost could be lowered if the buildings were pre-manufactured in the South.

Construction began in May this year. Since then, Carbonnier estimates he’s spent 1,800 hours working on the home, during evenings and weekends. He hopes to have the home finished enough to live in several months from now.

He plans to heat the house with a wood pellet stove, which he says is the most environmentally-friendly option, and will create a cozy feeling inside.

The Arctic has a long history of goofy architectural schemes. Take Iqaluit’s high school and elementary school, which both look like they belong beneath the ocean, with only the odd porthole providing natural light.

And Igloolik’s Nunavut Research Station looks like a crash-landed flying saucer.

Geodesic dome buildings were another trend in Arctic architecture, with at least four built around Nunavut and Nunavik.

But few of the dome buildings remain standing today, other than Iqaluit’s Kamotiq Inn, and the museum in Inukjuak.

Others, such as Iqaluit’s blue dome, or “ugloo,” which was owned by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and stood across the street from North Mart, was demolished last year after being plagued by problems since its inception. Puvirnituq’s dome has similarly been torn down.

It turns out that the dome design led to poor air circulation, causing the wooden frames to prematurely rot.

But Carbonnier is confident his design will be a success, and that nothing like it has been tried before.

“It’s a figment of my imagination. I haven’t seen anything like it before.”

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