Despite living in remote communities, Nunavik’s Inuit do not hesitate travelling long distances to visit each other or attend important cultural events. The 10,000 people living in one of Nunavik’s 14 communities can now gather in a new cultural centre located in the northern village of Kuujjuaraapik, Qué., north of the 55th parallel. Originally planned as a showcase for the highly popular Inuit Games, the facility lends itself to all sorts of events, from storytelling, singing, and dancing to concerts, films, and banquets.
The 680-m2 (7319-sf) building is located near the mouth of the Great Whale River on a sand dune. The slightly lopsided one-and-a-half-storey exterior volume seems to have been shaped by the strong winter winds. A light aerial structure signals the entrance portico, facing south, echoing the porch of the nearby church, the village’s oldest structure.
The protected portico can be reached through a gently sloping concrete ramp, which creates an additional gathering and play area for the community. The strong lines of the front façade are projected inside the building and give life to the well-lit entrance lobby. Given the building’s function and because of high heating costs, the lobby is the only area of the building with large openings.
The lobby opens directly to the main hall, which can accommodate 300 people. Thanks to retractable seating and scenic equipment, the hall lends itself to various types of events. Translation and videoconferencing facilities also allow the community to hold assemblies. A small platform floating above serves as the hall’s control booth.
Pre-painted wood planks were used for the exterior cladding along with steel panels. The warm colour of the planks was meant to recall the sand dune on which the village is built, an uncommon situation as most northern communities sit on permafrost.
Building in Kuujjuaraapik was a major challenge.
Long-term planning is needed to achieve any project in the North. For the architects, it means consulting with the community and accompanying the client during a process that can last for years. Project financing represents another hurdle since construction costs in Northern regions are often three times higher than in Canada’s urban areas. Finally, because materials and building components can only be shipped during a brief summer season, accurate scheduling is of crucial importance.