12 months ago we led a ‘delegation’ of Scots to the conference and hosted a breakout session on the final day named ‘Possible Arctic Scotland’. The breakout session was held in the high echelons of Harpa late on the last day and conflicted with ‘that’ Scotland vs Australia rugby match, so we weren’t expecting a huge turn out: both from the audience and speakers themselves!
Photo Courtesy of Gemma Lord/Arctic Alba
Much to our surprise we had both quantity and quality in the people who came to listen to our session including the Faroese Foreign Minister, artists from Iceland and the director of the Anchorage Museum. It was a session we had billed as being filled with a design perspective of the Arctic and Scotland’s relationship to the High North. We’d managed to get along designers such as Ellis O’Connor and Gemma Lord, journalist and author Dominic Hinde, and both the Stephen twins; the directors of Dualchas Architects.
Our two-hour session was filled with engaging presentations as well as interesting comments from the audience. The most important comment from our perspective, though, came from one of the Icelandic artists. She highlighted that out of the 2000 delegates at the conference not even a single percent was from a design background and for that reason she believed our session was important to promote how art and design can play a key role in future development.
It was a feeling that we had had on our previous venture to Iceland the year before and a big part of the reason why we top loaded the Scottish breakout session with designers and artists. We hoped that ours, and others, might encourage greater engagement with design in the Arctic.
Ralph Erskine Drawing of Resolute Bay, Canada.
Photo from Graham Foundation
This year’s Arctic Circle Assembly though will include a number of design led practices, exhibitions and sessions which is very exciting. The fact that some of the same people we collaborated with last year are a key part of Prospect North is even more exciting; indeed, their work is a key part of the exhibition itself as ourselves and Soluis have utilised augmented and virtual reality to showcase them in a number of different ways.
Last year Ellis O’Connor jumped down from the north of Iceland where she was doing a residency to join us in Reykjavik for the conference. Now she is somewhere in the middle of Svalbard fending off a whole different sort of polar bear from the ones we have with us in Iceland. This year though, her painting, a charcoal piece reflecting Scotland and the Arctic, will be one of the main draws to Prospect North and shows what can be achieved through augmented reality as it morphs on screen to become a beautiful aerial montage of the country we live in.
Last year Alasdair Stephen of Dualchas talked poetically about how their houses are a response to the architecture of the Gael, how a traditional blackhouse formed the diagram of their HebHomes and how these buildings address the rural landscape of Scotland. He then went on to challenge people to think of how a similar ethos could be applied to an Arctic house typology.
This year we are showing that journey, and its potential future, through VR as we ask people to put on our polar bear masks (Einar Bearsson, Magnus Bearlegs and their sister who will be named at the conference) and immerse themselves in the past, present and future of rural Scottish architecture. We’ve created these in 360-degree video and developed the story from a clearance village in Skye to a dualchas home a little further around the coast to Our Arctic Home – a project we are currently developing to provide affordable, multi-use, multi-generational housing within a rural context using new building techniques and innovative technologies.
We’ll bring more of our own projects with us as well as we showcase Possible Scotland and Our Norwegian Story, and how similar projects could be replicated throughout the High North, but most importantly for us is to show how art, design and architecture can, and should, play an important role in the future of the High North and how it must not be ignored.
Thankfully, it looks like it’s not.