Igloos in the desert is a blog about trying to figure out how to live a more sustainable life in our flat, corporate, consumer world. It is about asking hard questions and stumbling along to find better answers. I am one voice, one person, sharing my ideas, issues, triumphs and mistakes on my journey. I am not an expert or an intellect, just an individual who is passionate and invested in making things a little better for all of us. I think sustainability is one of the keys to a better life for our whole species. Am I an idealist, maybe, but I am also honest and struggling to get to the truth about things.

By profession I am an architect and the name came to me from a debate I once had with some colleagues. We were talking about ‘green’ buildings. We were debating about which of a number of recent buildings was the most sustainable. One person talked about a project that had geothermal wells and a super insulated skin, another talked about an old factory that had a new roof garden on top and a third brought up a house that was build completely out of materials from another structure that had been torn down.

As I listened to my friends and colleagues debate the finer points of renewable energy, recycled materials and minimal impact structures I realized that we were probably talking about the wrong things. I asked the question ‘what is more sustainable than an igloo?’. An igloo that simple dome-shaped ice structure created by the Inuit. No built structure is more sustainable in my mind. The material is simply frozen water. The structure is a simple dome with an entrance. It is built for a singular purpose, to provide temporary shelter in extreme conditions. It requires no special tools beyond a saw and a shovel. Best of all, once built it lasts only as long as it is truly required. Once the winter breaks and it is warm the igloo simply melts becoming water yet again. I challenged them all, and I challenge you, to find a more sustainable structure.

My colleagues all looked at me in a bit of disbelief, that as an architect why would I consider an igloo in a debate about important structures. They scoffed and considered my comments foolish. One friend asked me point-blank ‘how do you build an Igloo in the Desert?’

I guess we’ll have to find out.


Igloo Design

April 16, 2010

The Igloo is a beautiful thing. I think it deserves its own design category. It falls somewhere between architecture and sculpture and performance art; creating shelter, giving form and evolving with the seasons. Igloo Design is a step beyond Green Design. It is Design with a capital I not a little g.  

Here are some of the qualities of Igloo Design:

  • The igloo is tenacious, built for the harshest climate, but fragile in the sun.
  • The igloo has form that is designed for optimum function. It is no taller than necessary, but built just the right size and shape to capture heat and create a comfortable environment inside.
  • The igloo uses no more materials than necessary. Frozen water in the forms of Ice and Snow are the building blocks for this structure.
  • Only simple tools are required to build the igloo.
  • Igloo design has little regard for financial value or social status, it is about survival and efficiency.  
  • When the structure no longer has value to the builder it can be abandoned without remorse. The igloo will eventually melt back into the soil with the changing of the seasons.

Now maybe all this exists in the built world, but I have only seen it in the natural world. Pieces of fruit, eggs, cocoons all share many of the qualities described above, but buildings? There are few buildings in today’s world that even strive for the same goals. Our structures are carefully designed creations using a collage of materials to thwart nature and provide robust spaces for living. Our cities are filled with beautiful, crafty well thought out machines where we live and work.

Perhaps we need to put our pride and ego aside and humbly examine the simple qualities of an Igloo? Perhaps we need to rethink how we design buildings, not just to go Green, but to create structures that evolve with the seasons, literally and figuratively. I know that I have a long way to go in my own design work to create something as smart and beautiful as an Igloo.