Working in the Canadian North, an Architect’s Perspective

Working in the Arctic for nearly 15 years is an experience like no other.  More importantly, working with the local Indigenous communities continues to be a learning opportunity.  The Arctic is a vast and beautiful landscape, covering a large area of the Canadian North.  This is a land of which most people are unaware and will never have a chance to see, so seeing and working in this part of Canada is truly special.

There are 25 communities throughout Nunavut and each one is unique in its own way.  Each community provides our team with new knowledge of how the next project can be designed as an improvement over the previous one.  Our team has gained invaluable knowledge about these communities and the Arctic through actively listening to their needs. The Inuit share a great rich history through storytelling and their memories of the past.  Knowledge is shared by the community elders and is passed down through successive generations.

Parkin Architects has been designing and building a variety of project types in the Arctic with a strong focus on educational facilities.  Designing and building a school or any building typology in the Arctic is a challenge, due not only to the environmental conditions, but also to addressing the requirements of small and remote communities.  Many of these communities comprise less than 1,000 people so, when a new project is being considered, it is important to engage them for ideas and insight.

Throughout the early stages of design, our team engages with the entire community to gain a better understanding of their needs.  These engagement opportunities provide all user groups an opportunity to contribute to the design.  This process also provides insight into the development of ideas that are led by the community and influence the final design of the facility.  For school projects, topics of local culture, history, and education are very important throughout these engagements.  Community feedback has become central to the design process and the use of a communal and cultural space has become a central focus point allowing for the development of other educational spaces.  In the design development phase of our current high school project, our team continues to explore the idea of celebrating culture, knowledge, and education where these types of common spaces allow for used by students, staff, and the community.

 

We hope that each building designed and built in Nunavut becomes part of the future success of each community.  The most important lesson learned for us is to continue to actively listen, learn, and gain a better understanding of the knowledge being shared with us. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to design and build in these unique communities and look forward to exploring new ideas guided by the Indigenous peoples.  Justin Leclair, Associate, Architect