Greater knowledge of Arctic housing construction is necessary if we are to become better at building homes under extreme conditions. DTU Civil Engineering is therefore now initiating a four-year research project aimed at studying and evaluating selected types of dwellings in Greenland. The purpose of the research project is to improve our understanding of the correlation between the Arctic climate and building practices in Greenland. 

“We can arrive at conclusions through measurements, but another relevant question is whether people like living in the houses. We’re very interested in achieving a better understanding of how construction—in a wide sense—is affected by the extreme conditions in the Arctic region. Important factors include the climate, but also the culture and what we call island mode operation—the fact that the small communities, in effect, function as islands. This manifests itself in, for example, difficult logistical conditions but it covers much more than that,” says Tove Lading, an Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering, who heads the project. 

The project has a broad focus, from building design, energy, and indoor climate, over construction process and sustainability, to architecture and user satisfaction. The new knowledge gathered through the project will also be relevant in other places around the world characterized by extreme climate conditions and island mode operation. In addition, the results can contribute to better and more secure construction solutions in Danish housing construction.

New housing stock and no gathering of experience

Historically, the Greenland housing stock is very new. Where a large share of the Danish housing stock is more than 100 years old, there are virtually no dwellings in Greenland dating back to before 1950. At the same time, nearly all dwellings in Greenland are package-deal houses and standard projects; there are very few individually designed dwellings. This makes Greenland dwellings highly suitable as a research object. 

Building traditions, practices, and techniques are constantly developing. Each decade has seen the advent of new building types and construction principles—and is thus also associated with particular mistakes and experiences, which have rarely been gathered and evaluated before the housing construction has moved in a new direction. 

“In Greenland, there is extensive knowledge about construction under Arctic conditions, but part of this knowledge is rooted in individual persons, and it has not been systematically collected and validated. It can therefore be difficult to make the existing knowledge available to the construction industry in Greenland, and the project aims to remedy this through the systematic study of typical homes,” explains Tove Lading.

This is knowledge which can also be relevant to study programmes for Arctic engineers.

Extreme climate entails special construction requirements

The climate is an unavoidable construction challenge in the Arctic. However, the cold is not in itself the greatest obstacle. It is rather the combination of strong winds, precipitation, and considerable temperature fluctuations between frosts and thaws which often causes problems. The accumulation of ice on roofs and snow around buildings entails a risk of injuries and makes access to and around the buildings difficult. Added to this is a poor indoor climate, which is a widespread problem in Greenland.

Construction in Arctic regions requires thorough and detailed planning. Materials, components, and people must be brought in by ship or aeroplane, and specialist skills and expertise may be far away.

DTU’s Dean of Research, Katrine Krogh Andersen, sees the project as a natural part of DTU’s Arctic activities. She emphasizes that the project may be of great importance—not only in Greenland and the Arctic region—but also in other parts of the world characterized by extreme climatic and logistical challenges.

“Arctic research will play an important role in the years to come, not least in view of the need to balance sustainability and the increasing focus on possible ways of exploiting the rich resources in the Arctic. It's a sensitive environment with extreme challenges, and it’s therefore important that we understand the conditions optimally and adapt the solutions accordingly. This requires research. Due to the effects of climate change, the need for this special knowledge is becoming increasingly important—both in the Arctic and in other places around the world with extreme climate conditions. At DTU, we’ll contribute to mapping this knowledge and finding the technical solutions,” says Katrine Krogh Andersen.

The project is implemented in collaboration with Aalborg University, the Danish Building Research Institute (SBi), the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, and Ilisimatusarfik (University of Greenland), and also in a dialogue with the construction industry and public authorities in Greenland.

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