There are a few things that strike you pretty quickly after arriving in Iqaluit from "the south." The main one is that building is a tricky business that requires special considerations.
One consideration is that there are no natural building materials here other than stone. And stone, it has to be said, is not that suitable as a building material here because it is not a great insulator. So everything has to be shipped in, which of course is costly. That means that most architecture is pretty functional.
Another consideration is - duh - the weather. Ice, cold, wind, and snow for the better part of the year. And permafrost.
These considerations reveal themselves in many ways. There is very little concrete to speak of, at least that is visible. No sidewalks. No concrete foundations. Buildings are mostly built on steel piers, so that they are more flexible in response to the shifting ground.
The piers puzzled me at first, because the building floors are off of the ground without any skirting or insulation to the ground. I got a chill just thinking of the heat loss in winter. With this puzzle turning in my head for several weeks, I was delighted to recently discover a handy little booklet, "A Homeowner's Guide to Permafrost in Nunavut."
I learned that the ground below houses is very deliberately left open in order to prevent thawing of permafrost, which is a big problem in general, but a particularly immediate and practical problem if you're a homeowner building on permafrost. The booklet even advises to get rid of snow banks around your house, because they insulate the ground and help thaw it.
Should you care to delve deeper into that permafrost, the booklet is available on-line: http://www.climatechangenunavut.ca/en/resources/news/homeowners-guide-permafrost-nunavut-just-released. The same web site is also pretty interesting in that it starkly shows that climate change in the north is not a future scenario to ponder; its effects are being felt right now, in very tangible ways.
Another thing you notice here is that almost all outdoor steps and ramps, at least on public buildings, are made of serrated steel grates. This is an absolutely brilliant idea: The snow and ice don't build up as much, and in addition you have an excellent rough surface so you never slip! And less shovelling! Why this has never caught on in Saskatchewan and or Maine is beyond me. People, take note!
I'd like to say that harsh weather conditions and the cost of materials has resulted in highly energy-efficient homes, but if my building is typical, that is sadly not the case. My building is only a couple of years old, but the wind virtually whistles through the windows and walls, and the walls are cold to the touch when the temperature drops. Glad the heat is included in the rent. There is such a shortage of housing here, so builders are under pressure to get buildings up quick. This generally does not lead to good design and energy efficiency.
Having said this, there are a handful of truly beautiful buildings here, including the Qamutiq building, which is shaped like an Inuit sled (called - yes - a qamutiq!), and the legislature, which emulates the curves of the land. Also beautiful in their own way are the two 60s-style schools that look a bit like square igloos - blocky and white and blue.
The fact that rock and stone are abundant means that the main decorative elements on streets are stone carvings or just plain old boulders. Of course, there are many inuksuk, the stone representations of people, but there are also incredible carvings, including one that manages to cram in just about every northern stereotype you can think of: polar bear, raven, AND a muskox.
For some weird reason, on the main streets downtown there are wooden posts to demarcate the sidewalks from the roads. Why not stones? Another puzzle still floating around in my head.
QAMUTIQ BUILDING, MORNING LIGHT WITH A HALF MOON IN THE SKY
A LESS ARTISTIC SHOT OF THE BUILDING, WITH THE CONTEXT OF THE MORNING RUSH HOUR
STEEL GRATE AT THE LEGISLATURE
STEEL GRATE AT MY WORK BUILDING
BICYCLE WITH EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF PIER BUILDING STRUCTURE
INUKSUK AT THE LEGISLATURE. AND ANOTHER EXCELLENT SHOT OF PIER CONSTRUCTION
ROCK GARDEN - WITH CHRISTMAS TREES IN A LAND OF NO TREES - AT THE LEGISLATURE.
HOW MANY INUIT/NORTHERN SYMBOLS CAN YOU SPOT IN THIS PICTURE? (HINT: I SPOT AT LEAST SEVEN OBVIOUS ONES)
JUST A PLAIN OLD BOULDER - BESIDE A WOODEN POST
MORE WOODEN POSTS. WHY? WHY NOT BOULDERS?
SCHOOL ARCHITECTURE - NO PICS BUT HERE BUT YOU CAN VIEW THEM AT:
INUKSUK HIGH SCHOOL: http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/65674photo_inuksuk_gets_a_new_coat/
NAKASUK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/58772651