Dwellings in Svalbard
The seasons in Svalbard consist mainly of a long winter, where the sun does not show for 3 months, and a summer where the sun does not set for 4 months. This extreme is not visible in the housing design. I want to investigate if it is possible to rethink light design in a way were building openings and artificial light play together in a symbiosis that meet the human need for a rhythm of day light. “[Arctic] communities tend to be of the frontier type with a population in flux, and are neither functionally nor humanly satisfying. This situation tends to lead to imitations of “home country” conditions. Such imitations are always inferior to the original as well as being emotionally and culturally unsatisfying” Ralph Erskine, Building in the Arctic, 1960
Today the houses of Longyearbyen have no outdoor areas. The reason is partly because the city’s history as an old mining town, but also because vegetation is sparse making it impossible to adopt the southern ways of creating spaces with trees and bushes. I want to study how a building volume in this wild climate can interact with the shifting seasons in a way that offers new social qualities in spaces indoor and outdoor.
The mountains seem incredibly high because of the very sparse vegetation and the jump in scale are enormous. It is crucial to keep in mind when designing in Svalbard that the 3 tallest things are the mountain, the house and the body. The city consists primarily of wooden houses, several of them old renovated mine barracks. All buildings on Svalbard have a foundation on stilts, this is necessary due to permafrost. The stilts are in Longyearbyen often covered by a wooden skirt. Because of the city´s origin in coal mining, mine constructions are preserved across town as well as on the mountain sides. Besides parking everywhere, are garbage containers constantly obstructing the view, and when walking on the terrain are the on-ground pipe-systems forcing you to parkour over them. The simple houses offers very little protection against the wind. And Svalbarders are outdoor people, that wish for curated spaces. During my 5 day stay in the summer, I saw 2 outdoor parties, in 8 degrees and cloudy weather.
Because of the raised house the terrain around it does not have to be sculptured, which gives the idea that the houses are not a part of the landscape. The low vegetation contributes to a feeling of a bare surface where foreign objects are dropped. The ground is public ground and are perceived as one big parking lot. The transition between inside the private house and to the outdoor public space is very abrupt, as there is no social area like a porch or a garden. This seems physically abrupt, especially in the winter where the temperature difference between inside and outside is often 40 degrees, but also mentally does the short threshold seem violent. It seems so odd that the windows in the houses, looks just like windows in houses south of the polar circle. Even though Svalbard has much more extreme light conditions. The people in Longyearbyen deal with the problem in their own way. In summer they put tin foil in their bedroom windows, and pull the drapes in the living room… …And in the winter? They forget all about pulling the curtains and removing the tinfoil. Resulting in closed off windows all year round
FN world goals Good health and well-being Studies show that better light conditions makes the body healthier. Houses with light sustaining not only the visual eye but also the inner body clock can keep the body in balance with deep sleep and an awake and active day. Good sleep-awake cycles prevents Seasonal Affective Disorder and chronic diseases like diabetes. Taking a walk in the forest has been an old remedy against mood swings and light illnesses. Today studies cements the old remedy by showing that living less than 300 meters from a green area makes you happier, healthier, less prone to psychological problems and gives you better social skills 1.. Houses with protected outdoor areas, which can prolong the otherwise short outdoor season, ensures a better contact between humans and nature on a daily basis. Sustainable cities and communities Social sustainability means promoting gatherings, helping people to meet each other, and thereby preventing loneliness and sadness. By zoning between private space and public space, one can create a dwelling that supports social gatherings in different scales. Ecological sustainability is consideration for nature. Nature on Svalbard is very fragile and vast areas of vegetation in Longyearbyen has been destroyed due to human activity. Less square-meters per person means small buildings that use less materials and destroy less nature, but not necessary poorer living standards.
Site development
 A platform is stretched between the houses, forming 2 levels outdoor. From the private house an area for small social activities are created on the platform, whereas bigger gatherings are possible in the inner ground circle, where the traffic in and out also will be happening. Under the platform are a pratical level created for parking, garbage and pipesystems. A more organized solution on the pratical issues let nature stand more pure, and it is closer to the idea of humans living in the landscape instead of on the landscape. The houses are surrounded by a extra layer of wall, to give extra isolation and wind protection. The wind-deflecting wall are made from riverbed stones, as an integrated part of the building shape. The wall is built up from the terrain, visually anchoring the raised buildings to the landscape. The stone wall is continued around the whole dwelling forming a closed environment protected both from wind, roaming tourists and potentially polar-bears.
My process started with studying weather data and building-techniques for cold and windy climates. During winter, the average temperature is around -14 degrees. With an average wind speed of 6 meters per second the wind chill are -24 degrees on skin and facades. In summer are the temperatures just raised above 0, but with wind chill the temperature drops under the bar. During the 9 months with degrees below zero the prevailing wind comes from the ESE and in the 3 warmer months the wind comes from WSW. These cold temperatures requires extra isolation of the houses, either through thick walls or by wind breakers. The textbook example on windbreakers are vegetation. Trees are placed so they create protection for the building, minimizing the need for isolation. But nothing grows higher than four cm on Svalbard and I therefor needed the building design in itself, to act as wind-deflector.
I have worked with one medium sized house of 80 m2. It shows a principal that can be used in the rest of the houses in all 3 sizes. I have, as earlier, started with the climate as a guideline. Inspired by the iron age long houses where sleeping rooms functioned as isolating rooms for the inner common room, have I organized the rooms according to wind impact, and to benefit from the good view up and down the valley. The house is divided into two sections by a stone wall. On the side facing the good view and the biggest chance of sun are the common-rooms, and on the facade facing winter wind are the rooms which are often kept more cool; the bedrooms and entrance. The entrance has received special attention, as the use of this area differs from the more southern practices. Because of the cold climate are the gear quite heavy. Dressing in 4 layers of clothes are made more comfortable, when the temperature drops according to layers put on. When entering the house from outside, are the boots often covered in snow and trousers and jackets frost-covered. The two room entrance gives the possibility to have a wet cool space for the outer layer of clothes and prevents the inner dry layers getting wet on the floor.
The houses are clad in aluminum plates, with detailing in wood and the wind-deflecting wall in stone. The materials all have a connection to the area, most obviously the stone, as it is taken directly from the building area. The aluminum plates are a used material in more industrial buildings in Longyearbyen, the most known being the mining icon: the cable way station. The wood is seen everywhere especially in private housing. The two outer materials: aluminum and stone are durable materials, that can withstand the harsh weather. The materials are cold to the touch, they are materials for the climate. The Jatoba wood is on the other hand a material for the body. It is used where the body comes in contact, throughout the dwelling: in door frames, window frames, entrance module and benches.
The 4 months of polar summer does not mean 4 months with sunshine. The chance of clear sky during the summer months are less than 15 %. When the sky, finally, is clear, the mountains cast shadows in the valley half of the time. I have therefore chosen not to work with sunlight at all, but only skylight. The hard thing for us living in Denmark is to understand the difference between thinking openings in Denmark and on Svalbard. In Denmark we wish for openings that can let in the vague winter light. But on Svalbard there is no winter light to let in. The season with vague light are 2 months, one in spring, one in autumn. The rest of the time there is darkness or there is light. The goal is therefore not to let in as much light as possible, but rather create atmospheres of light. This is done by different sizes of openings, variated positions and additional shudders. The function of the room inspires how the light are spatially distributed. The living-room are brightly lit from a single source, whereas the kitchen and eating area are more even and dim. The bedroom are much darker than the common rooms as the bedroom are a room for tranquil activities. Two spaces have shutters for the windows: the bedrooms and the living room. The shutters are meant as a extent of the atmospheres in the rooms and not as a way of closing off all light in the house. The kitchen area is therefore without shutters as it is a working station contrary to the relaxing living room. The shutter is a perforated plate in order to make artificial twilight in the living room during the polar summer. Twilight is commonly perceived as a more homely atmosphere but also the twilight is a natural signal for the body that it is time to go to bed. The shudders in the bedroom are a solid plate, to allow the room to have their own kind of night during the bright summer. The bedroom is the only indoor space where I have proposed artificial light. The idea is to have an LED textile wall in each bedroom. During the winter it is often hard to shake the drowsiness off and an integrated lamp that can simulate daily light-rhythms could help resetting the inner clock. The idea is that the wall can be timed to work as a wakeup lamp or simply be turned on to facilitate light therapy.
Kitchen Living room
The kitchen openings consists of two windows. The first is a wide window easy to look out of when standing and sitting by the dinner table. The panoramic view is facing the valley rather than the city. The window-opening by the kitchen table is a functional window. The opening is low, allowing the light only to hit the working surface of the table. The livingroom are lit by only one opening but a big one. The window is big enough to stand or sit in, offering the feeling of being a part of nature but without being out in the cold weather. Due to the bedrooms facing toward the more populated areas, are the windows placed high. This gives a view toward the mountain tops instead of the facades on neighboring houses, and at the same time secures privacy in the room.
Kitchen Bed room