Architecture in icy conditions

Architecture in icy conditions

Building in extremely cold climates is a delicate architectural challenge,

and there are several key factors to consider when taking on this challenge.

These factors are south-facing windows, dark colors and geothermal energy.

At the highest latitudes on Earth, the sun’s rays always strike at a very low angle.

Which reduces its impact, because it must pass a large amount of air mass.

There are also areas in the Arctic Circle that do not see the sun for six months of the year.

Which results in it being subject to very low temperatures throughout the year, even in the summer.

The decline in solar energy also means that usual solar energy acquisition strategies are rendered useless.

These areas usually have high humidity levels as well, making them cooler than the thermostat would show.

In these types of climates, the first method of heating is to retain the heat inside the house using traditional methods.

In mountainous areas, solar radiation is higher, so it is possible to use solar energy acquisition strategies and combine them with thermal insulation.


Architecture in icy conditions


Bioclimatic architecture

No matter where we live, nature provides us with the basics that keep us comfortable in our  homes.

Bioclimatic architecture is about designing buildings with local climatic conditions in mind.

Taking advantage of all available resources, including sun, vegetation, rain and wind,

in order to reduce the impact on the environment by using less energy.

This field is closely linked to sustainable construction,

where all processes and structures are environmentally friendly and use resources efficiently throughout the life of the building.


Architecture in icy conditions


How to build in icy climates

There are three basic strategies followed by traditional architecture for structures at high latitudes:

Thermal insulation and energy conservation, the use of materials that heat slowly for interior decoration, and ventilation to get rid of excess moisture.

With these principles in mind, the defining characteristics of this type of architecture are usually:

  • Compact buildings with low form factors,  including underground or semi-underground structures that take advantage of the thermal inertia of the ground around them reducing temperature fluctuations.
  • Thick walls prevent rapid temperature changes.
  • Use wood for both walls and interiors.
  • Small breaks
  • Dark colors attract solar radiation.
  • Ventilation via chimneys.
  • Roofing with plants as insulation, and the grass houses in Iceland are an example of how this strategy
  • can be used in traditional architecture.

Materials to be used

The choice of material will have a significant impact on thermal insulation.

With the right materials, the home will be able to withstand harsh weather conditions and will last longer.

Recommendations for icy conditions

  • Teak: A type of wood that is flexible and durable thanks to its high oil and natural rubber content
  • Plaster: A material used for cladding, flooring and partition walls since ancient times in Egypt.
  • Limestone: The main raw material used in the cement industry.
  • Glass: Very common in newer structures.


Architecture in icy conditions
Architecture in icy conditions


Use ice for insulation

Although it may seem like a complicated factor, snow can be very beneficial when it comes to insulation.

Compressed snow is made up of 50% air, which prevents hail from passing through, or at least slows it down.

This is the basic principle of the igloo: to keep the cold out and keep the heat out.

In the past, people in the Alps and Scandinavia would place stones and logs on the roofs of their homes to increase friction, prevent snowfall, and provide thermal insulation.

However, it is important to control the amount of snow accumulating on the roof,

as excess weight can be a problem.

This is why roofs in cold climates are steeper.


Read also: Returning focus to Brutalist architecture