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Dorte Mandrup to design Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre amidst frozen tundra

The centre, integrated into the rocky hillside with a commanding view of Iqaluit in northern Canada, is designed to harmonise with the natural features of the complex terrain.

by STIRworldPublished on : Aug 07, 2023

The Arctic terrain of Nunavut—"our land," as the inhabitants of this Canadian province fondly call it in their language Inuktitut, is the largest and northernmost territory of Canada. Inhabited by the indigenous Inuit people, Nunavut beats with the rhythm of their forebearers, echoing their stories through the frozen tundra and whispering secrets in the winds.

Danish architecture studio Dorte Mandrup has been selected to design the Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre, a space dedicated to honouring Inuit culture and for promoting cultural healing and reconciliation between Inuit and non-Inuit communities. Initiated by the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT) and supported by the City of Iqaluit, the Government of Nunavut, and the Government of Canada, the centre will serve as a haven where the Inuit community can reconnect with its collective past through engagement with objects, stories, and cultural activities. The project is stated to be a tribute to the Canadian government's dedication to the Nunavut Agreement, which recognised the pressing requirement for a territorial heritage facility.

A canopy will follow the curving profile of the structure and cantilever over the glazed facade. |Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre | Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
A canopy will follow the curving profile of the structure and cantilever over the glazed facade Image: Courtesy of Mir

The Nunavut Agreement, also known as the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, is a comprehensive land claim settlement reached in 1993 between the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the Inuit of the eastern Arctic, represented by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). The agreement led to the creation of the territory of Nunavut, which officially came into existence on April 1, 1999, making it Canada's newest and northernmost territory. This was a milestone in recognising indigenous rights and self-governance in Canada and contributed to preserving and promoting Inuit culture and heritage in the region of Nunavut.

According to William Beveridge, the Executive Director of the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT), the need for a territorial heritage centre was initially recognised in the Nunavut Agreement. However, even after 30 years, they still lack a dedicated space of their own. Consequently, numerous artefacts crafted by their ancestors remain stored in facilities located in the southern regions. Due to restricted opportunities for Inuit engagement with these items, they continue to feel disconnected from their cultural heritage. “The community has been working tirelessly for a long time to establish a place for Inuit to collect precious heritage and share unique, specialised knowledge that remains imperative for future generations and is in severe risk of vanishing. We are looking forward to listen, learn, and be the link between thought and form," states Dorte Mandrup, Founder and Creative Director of the Copenhagen-based practice.

The structure will be constructed as a hill in the landscape | Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre | Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
The structure will be constructed as a hill in the landscape Image: Courtesy of Mir

The centre is set to be built on an elevated rugged landscape on the northern edge of Iqaluit, which is the capital of Nunavut. The Canadian architecture is carefully planned to mirror the contours of the rocky hillside and harmonise with the natural features of the terrain.

Having collaborated with Record Guy Architects, LEES+Associates, Adjeleian Allen Rubeli, EXP, Pageau Morel, Altus Group, as well as indigenous consultants Kirt Ejesiak and Alexander Flaherty on the design, Mandrup states that the concept emerged from a desire to pay homage to the patterns formed in snowdrifts by the prevailing wind called kalutoqaniq, which have long served as an ancient wayfinding system for the Inuit.

An open slit creates a daylit space for gatherings and community activities | Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
An open slit creates a daylit space for gatherings and community activities Image: Courtesy of Mir

The overall design of the building carves into the rocky terrain overlooking Iqaluit with a generous roof covered in rock and turf. Utilising the protective terrain, the structure creates a natural shelter that gently envelops the delicate collections and exhibits below. "Working within this context requires both extreme sensitivity and consideration of the landscape and its cultural significance," added the Danish architect.

The visualisations reveal that at the building's front, there will be floor-to-ceiling glazing along the facade, positioned under the terrain-topped roof. The glazing will gently slope into the ground, blending the roof seamlessly with the landscape of Iqaluit.

The centre will house an exhibition space, shop, daycare centre, hostel, office, and more. | Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
The centre will house an exhibition space, shop, daycare centre, hostel, and office Image: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup

Additionally, a canopy will be incorporated, following the curved profile of the structure, and extending beyond the glazed facade with a cantilevered design. The building spanning 5,500 square metres will include a café, workshop area, conservations lab, shop, daycare centre, hostel, and offices. Furthermore, it will be linked to a vast outdoor area that provides ample space for traditional practices such as carving, kayak building, tool making, and berry picking. The centre is expected to be completed by 2027.

Previous projects by Dorte Mandrup featured on STIR include a public space titled Ilulissat Icefjord Centre from Greenland's rugged coastal landscape, and The Whale, which is being constructed on the island of Andøya in Northern Norway.

Project Details

Name: Nunavut Inuit Heritage Centre
Location: Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
Client: Inuit Heritage Trust
Project Size: 5.500 m2
Completion: Expected 2027
Lead Architect & Design: Dorte Mandrup
Architect of Record: Guy Architects
Landscape Architect: LEES+Associates
Indigenous consultants: Kirt Ejesiak (CEO of Arctic UAV and CEO of Panaq Design) and Alex-ander Flaherty (Founder of Polar Outfitting)

(Text by Irene Joseph, intern at STIR)

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