Renowned architect to advise on Iqaluit housing

“I like challenges and this was just the challenge I was looking for.”



A Montreal architect who has won an international reputation for innovative, affordable housing was in Iqaluit this week to advise municipal officials and developers on how to think outside the box-like structures that often pass for homes in the North.

Deputy Mayor Glenn Williams invited Avi Friedman to Iqaluit after hearing him at a conference for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Montreal.

Friedman, co-founder and director of the Affordable Homes program at McGill University and a professor in the architecture department, took Williams up on his offer and visited Iqaluit from August 18 to 21.

“I have spent the last two decades working on affordable housing,” said Friedman in an interview after he returned to Montreal. “Once the situation was presented to me I realized that my expertise was needed. I like challenges and this was just the challenge I was looking for.”

Friedman has received international attention and praise for his research projects that have built housing prototypes for developing communities around the world. He has written four books, including The Adaptable House and The Grow Home, and has been referred to as one of the top 10 people who will influence the way we live in the next quarter-century.

“The purpose in inviting Mr. Friedman was to assist the city and the Nunavut Housing Corporation to prepare a master plan for the area where the development of 10-plexes will be,” said city planner Michele Bertol. “The density is going from 16 to 70 families so this has to be planned very carefully.”

The development will see seven 10-plexes built by the beach close to the museum, over the next few years. Construction of the first building will begin in mid- to late-September of this year.

With the development in the heart of downtown, Bertol said the city wants the area to be more than crowded, high-density housing, an idea that reflects the philosophy that drives Friedman’s work.

“We need to create communities rather than housing,” said Friedman. “You don’t just want to plunk buildings there, but create an environment.”

Friedman spent his time in Iqaluit consulting with representatives from the city, the Nunavut Housing Corporation and the Iqaluit Housing Authority. The organizations had an opportunity to inform Friedman of the difficulties of designing and managing social housing in Iqaluit.

“It is unlike any place I have ever worked,” said Friedman. Everything from the climate to the detailed planning involved in having materials shipped from the south present new challenges for the seasoned architect.

“I had many crash courses on issues I did not know about,” said Friedman. “I spent the whole time soaking up as much as I could. I liked the place so much.”

After spending hours at the site and touring social housing units in the city Friedman said that he will take community lifestyle into account, such as making room for tenants’ snowmobiles and qamutiks.

“All of these small elements need to be considered from the beginning,” he said.

He will return to Montreal and incorporate all of his ideas, which will include the design of the building and landscaping, and will present his suggestions to the city by October.

“He is such a smart man and he has lots of ideas,” said Bertol. “This is an opportunity to use some fresh ideas in going ahead with the development. It’s about ideas that can help make things better.”

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