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Building Design in the Sub-Arctic

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Abstract

This thesis, written in 1988 is concerned with building design in the Sub Arctic. It was by necessity restricted to the analysis of climatic factors affecting the planning and fabric of buildings. From field visits to northern Sweden in 1985, severe climate was identified by the author as the single most influential factor affecting building design and construction in the northern latitudes. Other influences such as isolation, fuel poverty, lack of vegetation and ethnography, although important, were, at the time considered out-with the scope of the study and were not dealt with in any great detail. The study used climate as the design generator and yardstick by which the planning principles and building envelope might be judged. In this regard the planning and the building envelope were identified as the two main design elements in a building's function as a climate modifier. Since a substantial part of the problem of designing for the Sub Arctic hinges around the modification of a severe external climate, these two factors were taken to be the logical choice about which to base this study. The study was undertaken because it was recognised that for economic and socio-political reasons the Sub Arctic regions of the world have been populated by various peoples predominantly involved in recent years in scientific research and the exploitation of mineral and other natural resources. Indigenous populations have been largely supplanted by an influx of southern peoples involved in this economic development and whose aspirations for living environments are firmly rooted in more temperate climates (Erskine 1966 Team Ten conference Otterlo). It appeared at the time that there was a need to provide habitable space in this inherently uninhabitable environment. However it was recognised that the Sub Arctic climate poses unique problems to conventional European ways of using space and designing the built environment. A normal central European city street for example, whilst functioning well in the temperate climate it was designed for, would be unacceptable in the Sub Arctic. Snow build-up, icing, wind tunnelling and wind-chill for example would make the street completely useless to the inhabitants. Similarly the detailed fabric of buildings designed for London, Paris, or New York would, if transposed directly to say the north-west territories of Canada, perform at a less than optimum level and their life expectancy would be considerably shortened. It was recognised that there was therefore a need for the designer to reassess his or her design criteria in the light of climatic conditions and their effect upon planning and construction. This study was therefore aimed at providing general design recommendations for building in the Sub Arctic. In order to do this a systematic analysis of the climatic conditions and the problems they cause in the creation of a habitable human environment was carried out. From this a number of possible design directives were formulated. The study was split into two halves. One concerns itself with the general planning considerations, the other with the detail of the building envelope. It was arranged in this way for the convenience of the reader who, involved in the design process, may have needed a logical step by step guide to the particular problems involved. In general the structure was aimed at working from the general to the specific, hence it begins with general planning and later progress to the detailed consideration of the building envelope. It was recommended that reader should bear in mind that rarely in practice can these two fields be considered separately as both are two sides of the same "design coin" and cross checking as it were, is always advisable.
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