Smart Takes

The future of homes for rural Alaska

Posting in Architecture

Alaska's Aleutian Housing Authority sponsored a competition to design affordable, efficient homes in harsh northern climates.

Home construction has been going on for long enough that it seems like a fairly straightforward process. But designing homes gets a lot more complicated in places like Alaska’s Aleutian Islands where there are extreme winds of 100 miles per hour and near constant rain. And because powering homes in rural Alaska is dependent on diesel oil that gets shipped in from thousands of miles away, there is a need for designs that are cheap and energy-efficient.

So the Aleutian Housing Authority sponsored a design competition for architects to conceptualize better homes in the village of Atka in Alaska.

The competition called for the design of three bedroom, one bathroom homes measuring 1,150 to 1,350 square feet with a price tag no higher than $400,000. The designs also had to meet the standards of the Living Building Challenge 2.0, “an incredibly rigorous green building certification that requires structures to be net-zero water (meaning they produce as much water as they consume), net-zero energy, sourced from local materials, non-toxic (they don’t use certain red-listed materials), and more,” reports Co.Exist.

One hundred and four applicants from 24 countries competed for cash prizes and the chance to put their design to work in rural Alaska.

The winner of the competition was "Finnesko 13," a house from Spanish architecture firm Taller Abierto. The home includes wind turbines and a geothermal installation so it can generate heat from volcanic soil on the island. The winners received $35,000 and the opportuninty to work with the Aleutian Housing Authority to build their design.

Alaska Business Monthly reports:

“The winning design was culturally relevant, incorporating traditional Aleut aesthetics as well as technical, aerodynamic and site specific aspects. Its shape will deal with the wind very effectively” says Dan Duame, Director of the Aleutian Housing Authority, noting that the Aleutian Islands are often referred to as the “birthplace of the wind.”  “Most importantly, I can build this house, while at the same time contributing to the sustainability movement in Alaska.”

The second-place entry, “House for a Windy Island”, was designed by Jesse Belknap and Joseph Swain of the University of Washington. The house was built to handle sustainable outdoor activities catered to the harsh weather. For example the house contained a micro-greenhouse and a smokeless smokehouse for cooking fish and seal. The project also included a method for getting materials to Atka via freighter from Seattle. Belknap and Swain received $15,000.

Winners were announced at the International Living Future Institute's sixth annual unConference, Living Future 2012, May 2-4 in Portland.

Better Than An Igloo: Affordable, Efficient Homes In One Of The World’s Harshest Environments  [Co.Exist]

Photos via Taller Abierto

Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure