Form following Waste & Kinship

^ Monument built with whale bones in Alaska. Image via bloomberg tv


If we look at two types of traditional dwellings in the North Arctic area, whalebone structures and snow houses, we can read a whole ecology and economy on their floorplans. Material structures and spatial configurations blend together in a necessary adaptation of the soil into human habitation.

The most impressive form of the house according to available raw materials is the one resulting out of the waste coming from whaling activity: the lack of trees in the landscape makes whalebones be used as beams for dome-shaped structures. These used to be later covered with turf, snow or already worn-out sealskins for isolation.  Each Inuit whalebone structure was usually composed out of 15-20 jawbones from bowhead whales. They were seasonal shelters used following different hunting patterns throughout the year. In a recent study, Infranet Lab visualizes time in an arctic environment by tracking the nomadic hunting activity that makes settlements still count on an itinerant use of the landscape. Unfortunately, today more and more poorly isolated prefab houses are clashing with seasonal inhabitation of eskimo territories.


^ Bowhead whalebone structure via myriammahiques


^  Alaskan eskimo house (skins and whalebone) ca. 1906 via University of Washington


^ Engraving of a house made with whalebones, Olaus Magnus 1555. Image via sciencephoto


^ Thule Winter house – Whalebone structure. Image via the canadian encyclopedia 

^  Image via Indigenous Architecture of the Americas.

^  Whalebone structure in Point Hope, Alaska. Image via virtual tourist Point Hope.


Snow houses have traditionally followed a pattern of co-residency through clusters of connected or disconnected igloos. The dwellers of each cluster were determined by alliances between families and household organizations, leadership or kinship. Composite snow houses could therefore mutate with the years. They included indoor public space for festivals, feasts and games, singing, drumming or dancing, for the members of the cluster. Spaces were shared according to respect-obedience relationships between different male members of the alliance/family.

The three cases below correspond to houses from 1922, 1866 and 1915, as published in Space Syntax Analysis of Central Inuit Snow Houses, by Peter C. Dawson. Journal of Archaelogical Anthropology, Dec 2002.


^ Snow House Longitudinal section. Image via the canadian encyclopedia



^ Holcim Awards Gold 2011 for Food Arctic Networks, by InfraNet Lab. Images by  via detail-online.


^ The idea of enclosure of common ground within a household graphically reminds also of the brilliant organization of traditional farms in Cameroon, where the intimate areas configure the boundary of the public realm.  Image via zkfound

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