Architect Konstantin Ikonomidis designed a pavilion Qaammat above the Arctic Circle in Greenland to celebrate the local landscape and the Inuit community
The architect Konstantin Ikonomidis is Swedish but of Greek descent and is currently based in a small museum in Sisimiut above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. The scenery outside his window is as perfect as you think, a bunch of brightly colored houses with pitched roofs on the gray and green rocky promontory. Sail north for about an hour to reach the village of Sarfannguit (you almost have to take a plane, sail, or dog sled to reach anywhere in Greenland). Ikonomidis has just installed Qaammat for UNESCO on a hill above the village, two curved glass brick walls, a kind of eye-catching refuge, which he calls a grotto or permanent "pavilion".
The area surrounding Sarfannguit, extending from Aasivissuit to Nipisat, was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2018 and is Greenland’s third World Heritage Site. The new glass pavilion was commissioned by UNESCO in 2019 to celebrate the local landscape, culture and material, and the connection between the Inuit community and the landscape (Almost 90% of Greenland is Inuit or European Inuit Special people).
Ikonomidis has been in Greenland since 2017 and was headquartered in the capital Nuuk before moving to Sisimiut, the country's second largest city (population 5,600). He is fascinated by house building traditions and extreme weather, and believes that Greenland is a fertile land. "I was asked to build some kind of small house for the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival. I don't want to just build a beautiful house where you walk in," he said. "I tried to go beyond the obvious." Ikonomidis came up with Qamutit, a conceptual sleigh house. 'At the time, I was building a traditional Greenland style kayak, and you actually tied things together with a rope. This structure is mostly connected in the same way.
Qamutit is essentially a wooden scaffold tied to a large ski. Its construction uses other traditional Inuit construction techniques, placing wooden poles in precisely cut holes instead of bolts or screws together. This combination of lashing and grooving means that the Inuit sled has enough capacity to travel long distances on ice and snow. Ikonomidis connected Douglas fir panels to the scaffolding poles and asked visitors to share their thoughts on what makes the house a home, and posted them on one of the panels.
"UNESCO saw the sleigh house and wanted to cooperate," he said, "so we visited Sarfannguit to look for potential installation locations." This time he hoped that the work would be fixed and permanent: "The budget is really real. It’s very low, but it’s beautiful. I want to draw people’s attention to the village."
He also wanted to make sure that the work reflected the lives, thoughts and traditions of the residents of Savanjit. "I want to know what they want," Ikonomidis said. "I let them talk about nature, what it means to them and what their relationship with nature is," he said. 'There is a sense of its power here, because everything is super big, with these big mountains. There is a respect, a sensitivity to it, but there is also a feeling of vulnerability to it. It is in the local mythology. Then I came up with the idea of using glass. It has that sensitivity and fragility, in sharp contrast to the rock. Of course, you will also get a game of reflection and light, it looks like ice. This is a win-win situation.
The undulating walls of the pavilion are composed of 5 tons of opaque glass bricks, which are connected to metal poles and sunk into the rocks. This method draws on the local house building tradition. The two walls have two narrow openings, allowing a kind of intimacy and exposure at the same time.
As Ikonomidis said, the experience in or around the exhibition hall varies depending on the weather or the season or time you are there. "I was actually surprised by how it changed," he said. "Even if I look at the photos now, I can categorize them according to the time they were taken. Sometimes it’s blue, sometimes it’s yellow. When you walk around it, it becomes almost transparent, which is very interesting from other angles. Texture, sometimes it seems to absorb light, sometimes it reflects it.
Savanjit has a population of 100 people, and in Greenland's words, it is a large and prosperous place. Many smaller villages in the country have been abandoned and left in ruins. The industrialization of the fishing industry and the Danish government's policy of moving villagers to larger towns, especially the capital Nuuk, have made Greenland full of ghost villages. In fact, Sarfannguit is the only active village in the new UNESCO heritage area, and there is an abandoned village nearby. Ikonomidis imagined his pavilion as a connection between two outposts, past and present. It is also intended to be a signpost or lighthouse on the planned hiking trail between Sarfannguit and Nipisat, an extension of the existing Arctic Circle trail, and another way to attract attention and tourists to the village.
Now that the Qaammat project has been completed, Ikonomidis is preparing to go to Tanzania. Before moving to Greenland, he worked in the country and developed a prototype housing that would help stop the spread of malaria. He will rejoin his old team and engage in bamboo house design, while also pursuing what he calls "art/architectural projects".
However, it is hard to imagine that he would not return to Savanjit to see the hilltop monument he built for the village and the community it maintains. "They were involved from the beginning, and when the glass brick tray arrived, they were there," he said. "They are very satisfied with the pavilion, which is the most valuable thing for me." §
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