Housing and Urban
Frameworks Studio
Spring 2014

Arctic Mobility +
The Absolute Arctic

The unpredictable weather and ice conditions, strong winds and sea currents, and the ice pack the size of a continent create an almost impermeable boundary in the Arctic. The studio work for Aalto University studies ongoing and future development in the Arctic region in the context of mobility and access, as the receding ice cap opens up new shipping routes, and reveals new areas available for resource extraction.


The absolute remoteness of the Arctic used to fascinate explorers, though there is no land to reach, only the ocean and ice, and the abstract point of the North Pole. The attraction of the unreachable, unknown Arctic drove expedition after expedition wishing to make their claim on the uncharted territories, in their name and in the name of their nation. Monarchies competed for the honor of sponsoring the first navigators, and later in history, during the Cold War, the Arctic represented the shortest route from the USSR to the US, with missiles pointing North in both countries.

Today, due to anthropogenic global warming and melting of the Arctic ice, as well as advances in shipping technologies, the high Arctic is losing its nature of inaccessibility. The romanticized harsh, unforgiving Arctic environment with its well adapted yet extremely fragile ecosystem is becoming a node and an infrastructure of global shipping, and a competed source of oil, minerals and gas. Several countries state overlapping territorial claims, and the economic and thus political interests on one hand, and environmental concerns on the other are becoming more and more conflicted. The ecological definition of the Arctic, stating areas north of the tree line with a lower than +10C mean temperature in the warmest month, is diminishing. In the future, the ecological Arctic will lose its meaning and disappear, while the abstract geographical and astronomical definition of the Arctic, 66°33’’44’ N remains.

In an even faster pace, the unique ecosystem is being severely disrupted by changing ice conditions, warming temperatures, shipping traffic and invasive species. The Arctic environment is fairly young, as the last ice age (the Pleistocene) only ended 11 700 years ago, meaning that the native species are very well adapted to their current surroundings, but are hardly capable of readapting to fast changes. Natural borders are in the process of disappearing, and the Arctic region is turning from the unknown edge of the world into the center of geopolitical and economical interests. The intensifying use of the Arctic Ocean brings dramatic changes both to environmental and cultural aspects. The indigenous peoples in the Arctic countries are already struggling to maintain their traditional lifestyle as it is dependent on seasonal hunting and fishing, which in turn relies on predictable ice cover. The challenge of how the different cultures can coexist in the future is unanswered.

Navigation in the oceans, especially in the Arctic, has historically relied on reading the stars’ disposition in the night sky, and later basing on the navy maps of coordinate systems. In this century, radio signals are the global way to locate the ship in open sea, so the signals (satellite or radio) are the main communication mean and the very basic tool of navigation.

The speculative project titled The Absolute Arctic studies the thesis of the Arctic losing its identity by becoming accessible, and does this by reversing the effect: in the speculation, a signal jammer is inserted in the vicinity of the North Pole. The jammer creates a space of disconnection, or radio silence circulating with ocean currents. All GPS and radio signals are blocked in the small area, which means simultaneously blocking all information traffic and the data on ones location. The space is invisible, and can only be perceived through the lack of signal.

The idea is to reintroduce a glimpse of the unknown and unpredictable in the Arctic by reflecting the threshold of an ice berg into the void space of the signal-less area. With GPS, the location of existence is always marked in relation to objects and coordinates. In the project condition, however, the passenger taking the risky journey would be in pure nature, absolute Arctic, that does not relate or belong to any country and only exists relative to this awareness, being present only in abstract physical space of the Arctic.

In collaboration with Anastasia Glukhova



Read more +




Timeline of Arctic exploration

Progression of expeditions to the North,
Arctic sea ice extent

Arctic Connections

Shipping routes and ports, and information transfer

The Signal Jammer

Re-establishing silence in the High Arctic

The Absolute Arctic

Heini-Emilia Saari
Architect

Tel. +358 40 533 9454
heini.saari (a) gmail.com