Five Canadian design teams will take on the unique challenges of building in Nunavut in a new project heading to the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014.

The Arctic Adaptations exhibit, timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the creation of Nunavut, will also tour Canada after appearing at the prestigious design exhibit. Held every two years in Venice, the Biennale showcases new ideas in architecture. Arctic Adaptations is Canada's official entry.

The exhibit asks the chosen teams to design "new architecture that is adaptive, responsive and rooted in Nunavut’s unique geography, climate and culture," according to the curators, Lateral Office of Toronto.

"The idea of the exhibition is to produce five projects that look at five themes we think are key to robust and growing northern communities: health, education, culture, housing and recreation," Lola Sheppard of Lateral Office told CBC News.

The design teams will deal with issues such as the raw landscape, the harsh climate, the difficulties of getting building materials to the North as well as addressing local culture.

Lateral Office has been involved in research and design work on the role of architecture in the North over the last five years. It was chosen to curate the Biennale project by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

Nunavut is changing due to a young and rapidly growing population and is becoming more economically important to Canada because of resource extraction. At the same time, it is facing issues of climate change and other environmental and economic pressures.

"It’s the youngest territory, it’s one of the fastest-growing and it's rapidly transforming. We want our design teams to reflect on the role of architecture and design on community-building," Sheppard said.

Five organizations from the North have been chosen to guide the architects as they develop projects devoted to health, housing, education, recreation and the arts.

They are:

  • Ilisaqsivik Society Community Family Centre, which will work with Fournier Gersovitz Moss Drolet Architects of Montreal and the University of Montreal.
  • Nunavut Housing Corp., which will work with Lateral Office of Toronto and the University of Toronto.
  • Qaggiavuut Society for Performing Arts, which will work with Stantec in Iqaluit and Dalhousie University in Halifax.
  • Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre, which will work with Pin/Taylor Architects of Yellowknife and the University of British Columbia.
  • Sport Nunavut, who will work with Kobayashi + Zedda Architects of Whitehorse and the University of Manitoba.

The five architecture firms, which all have design experience in the North, will work with Canadian university students to create a series of proposals that will be presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The goal is to create videos, models, animations and soundscapes that show how architecture could contribute to the prosperity and well-being of people in the North.

Addressing Northern realities, customs

The architects were chosen for their northern expertise, including dealing with permafrost, the high cost of heating and the logistics of getting building materials to a site.

"With building equipment, you have a once-a-year window to get it there. If you miscalculate the amount of lumber you need that’s it for the year. You have to wait until the next shipping season," Sheppard said.

Designs created for southern communities can't be transferred effectively to the North, she added.

"Housing we built in the North has been southern and doesn’t adjust to the fact that people still hunt — that they store their meat," she noted, as an example. "If you go up to Iqaluit, every house has boats and snowmobiles and ATVs parked outside and there’s all sorts of gear."

There are also cultural issues to consider, for instance the need to create space inside homes for certain customs.

"You need a sort of gathering space because when you go into town, you see a friend. Gatherings in people’s houses are still important, so how the house can accommodate large gatherings is important."

Another consideration is that medical patients in remote communities are often conveyed to larger towns for care — an expensive and cumbersome option, Sheppard said. Because of this, the design teams will consider alternatives such as increasing mobile health care and incorporating traditional healing.

The Venice Architecture Biennale is scheduled for June 7 to Nov. 13, 2014.