Lola Sheppard: "Many Norths: Spatial Practice in a Polar Territory"

Thursday 31 August 2017

 Lola Sheppard

For many, the globe's polar regions still represent a terra incognita - a sublime landscape and a vast geography defined by a harsh climate, with little inhabitation. Yet the Arctic is full of spatial contradictions and multiplicities. Instead of a singular, cohesive whole, a panoply of “Norths” appears. Considerable differences exist with respect to geography, climate, national histories, Aboriginal cultures, infrastructures, and connectivity, among many other traits. These differences are manifested in approaches to resource development, infrastructure challenges, and urbanization. It is a region upon which modernity was imposed, sometimes foisted, and to which its inhabitants have demonstrated remarkable adaptability and ingenuity. Yet the transition has been fraught, and the consequences of that transformation are still palpably felt throughout the region—culturally, socially and ecologically.

Most northern communities have emerged with little thought or planning beyond expediency and cost efficiency. Southern models of architecture, urbanism and infrastructure have been imported, often as tools of colonialization, producing simultaneously a familiarity and unfamiliarity. Yet Canada's North has produced ongoing evidence of a vernacular inhabitation, sometimes unintentionally. Traditional spatial practices continue to exist alongside the more recently arrived spatial disciplines of architecture, urban design, planning, and engineering.

The research and design work presented in Many Norths: Spatial Practice in a Polar Territory, argue that modern spatial and design practices should to continue to evolve, informed by the present and the past. How might one imagine an emerging modern northern vernacular. If, as designers, we can expand the range of phenomena we document and innovate in the visual, spatial, temporal tools we use, we might expand the issues that architecture can incorporate into its design thinking, taking into consideration local identity and culture without nostalgia.