TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Februar 2010

Sektion 4.5. Arctic, Antarctica, Alps, Art – Imagining the Extreme / Natural Sciences, Humanities, Arts – Dialoguing
SektionsleiterInnen | Section Chairs: Knut Ove Arntzen (Universität Bergen), Gabriele Rampl (Scinews, Innsbruck) und Victoria Joan Moessner (University of Alaska)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Adapted Arctic Architecture

Gerd S. Seehuus, (MA of Architecture, MNAL, Hammerfest, Norway) [BIO]

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My contribution to this section has a focus on translating natural surfaces into materiality applied in Architecture.  The idea and concept is from my Master Assignment  at Bergen Architectural School 2007 in Bergen, Norway. The project points forward and gives perspectives towards an adapted Architecture; transformed, belonging and situated in Arctic Regions. My scientific area has been Longyear City at Spitsbergen, Svalbard.


Plateau and Mountain


Svalbard offers demanding climatic conditions, as premises for life and living. The permafrost in tundra and geology is challenging to infrastructure and buildings. The landscape is vulnerable and human impact leaves permanent traces in the surface if not careful This aspect is reflected in legislations and leads to a number of restrictions as to where you can go outside the settlements to several protected areas.

By searching for small clues, signs and marks on surface both in landscape, climatic conditions, flora and fauna, I wanted to get closer to an arctic identity possibly being translated into an architectural language. I studied processes in wildlife, society and human life on how to deal with climatic conditions and how these consequences reflect their daily life as background for being able to create an Architecture meeting those needs.

Can architecture evolve from nature? Can identity of flora and fauna being translated into materiality applied in architecture? Can architecture make use of the climatic and seasonal variations to give better conditions? Can architecture store and utilize natural energy resources the same way as vegetation and adapted mammals do? How can architecture reflect and emphasize their surroundings and everyday life as adapted to the arctic?

From a historical point of view the reason for the settlement in Longyear City is the mining industry. Coalmining is still one of the main reasons for living there, but recently both tourism and polar research is important foundations for the community. The community has developed from a company town into a modern family community. The archipelago is visited by a vast number of tourists every year, mainly in the late spring and throughout the summer season. We humans must behave on the premises of nature itself, the Arctic being the land of the polar bear Architecture added in this landscape ought to respect the history rooted in the environment and carefully adapt to the surroundings to achieve identity


Approach and transformation

My fascination and inspiration comes from the contrasts in the landscape; the seasonal variations and climatic contrasts; light vs. dark, cold vs. warm, the layers of time as shown in geology, the coal as reason for society as well as material for staying alive and keeping warm. The natural surfaces; such as snow, ice, tundra, vegetation, mammal’s fur and coat and the human being in the landscape, - dealing with the climatic conditions has been a huge source in creating the concept

coal 1

coal on concrete

coal 2

fat and coal

coal 3

fat and coal

surface 1 surface 2 surface 3
surface 4 surface 5 surface 6
Different Surfaces

The purpose and aim was trying to reveal an Architecture with identity and arctic adaptation dealing with climatic changes and elements.  An Architecture reflecting the arctic – both in geology, permafrost and flora / fauna, meeting climatic environmental changes and use of energy resources. An Architecture interfacing what is already there to give new experience of something known and cared for.

An Architecture situated in the landscape based on participation and identity.

I have been working with wool and felt, creating new layers, surfaces and structures.

surface handmade of wool 1 surface handmade of wool 2 surface handmade of wool 3
Illustrations of surface handmade of wool

My workshop “A space in landscape – arctic space made of nature” with 4th grade at the local school was one of IPY’s programs for schools during springtime 2007  We built walls of snow and ice to establish our place in the space focusing on human vs landscape, – “being small amidst the huge”.  

4th grade Snowwall Icewall
4th grade    Snowwall  Icewall

I chose the part of Longyear City stretching from the airport towards the city centre, at the Burma Road along the cultural historical remains of the elevated cable car between the sorting plant and the shifting station.

The Architectural work consists of two parts, a contemplative public space and dwellings for permanent residents, none of them yet being built The architectural answer is a consequence of the clues I found.

My use of materials is meant to reflect the landscape and the processes mammals, vegetation and humans go through in order to survive during demanding climatic conditions,  to design an Architecture interfacing the arctic needs The principles for storage and use of natural energy resources also derive from nature itself. Further research on these matters has to be done to achieve this, - especially when it comes to the challenges and yet possibilities due to the global environmental climatic situation and the consequences of the ongoing visible changes.


Museum for the Mining History / Contemplative Public Space

The public space is situated as a cross-section in the landscape. I have placed it in the middle of the protected cultural remains of the elevated cable car and it creates a counterpoint to the existing linear continuity of the cable car system. The Architecture communicates with the historical protected remains and gives a new understanding of the relationship with the history and yet underlines a continuity in a future direction.

The building is “hanging” over the brink offering not only a fantastic view of the surroundings but also a space where you have time to absorb what you see. As the only place in the city it is possible to visually follow the cable car’s linear continuity from the inner valley in the east via the shifting station to the sorting plant and shipping quay at the west side where the Ice fjord opens up.

The shape of the building reflects the large wall of snow we built. A space for silence and contemplation, with possibilities to absorb and reflect, in the same way as snow has the ability of absorbing sound as well as reflecting light. Part of the roof doubles as a stage for outdoor celebrations and rituals for seasonal changes and has direct access from the Burma Road A place where the light hits you as soon as the sun is above the horizon after the dark season, and where you can watch the midnight sun roll at the horizon before it leaves for a while and the dark is yet to come.


These building typologies are designed and placed in the terrain according to climatic reasons and situated with “their backs to the wind”. The ground floor is similar for all The dwellings are thought as two-family houses with a common zone for energy collection, storage and technical installations for distribution of energy. The middle section is lifted for natural light to be distributed and utilized when the sun is back after months below the horizon The rooms are placed as to apply natural principles for circulation of heat. Storage rooms and bedroomsre placed in the cold and dark zone towards the mountain, while common rooms are placed towards the view and where the sun heats the space. The entrances are shielded from the wind directions and lifted from the ground to avoid packed snow when extreme weather conditions occur.

The dwelling architecture is based on the principles of earth hummocks evolved on the tundra surface as a result of the permafrost’s thawing and freezing The hummocks distribute and utilize the light to a maximum in their short period of time of the growth season. The dwellings will in a similar way be able to distribute and utilize the natural light as well as collect and store the energy from the midnight sun for possible use during the dark season.  - similar to the ice walls we built; stretching towards and reflecting the light  

The architects have to listen to the landscape to find an identity of space to know how to approach the place. The planners have to listen to the architects. More than ever their knowledge of time and space focusing the human dimension is needed to be able to balance the societies building programs.

Where and how people live and the dwelling conditions given are important to continuation and cultivation of societies in our circumpolar areas.

4.5. SektionsArctic, Antarctica, Alps, Art – Imagining the Extreme / Natural Sciences, Humanities, Arts – Dialoguing

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

 Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Gerd S. Seehuus: Adapted Arctic Architecture - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

Webmeister:Gerald Mach     last change: 2010-02-13