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40 542 In Balance - Arctic Cycles II

Full course name in English: 
In Balance - Arctic Cycles II
40 542
Syklus 2
2021 Høst
2021 Høst
Maksimum antall studenter: 
Tine Hegli
Om emnet

Driftwood Refuge –  a design-build exercise in the Arctic region of Varanger


Course content

In Balance studio aims to equip the student with a knowledge platform where architecture is examined within a context of ecological sustainability.  

Reduced to its most fundamental level, architecture has evolved around creating shelter from the elements for human habitation, still allowing conditions for prosperity. As regions grapple with the reality of global warming, one hypothesis is that the architect of the Anthropocene has been given an equally important task: protecting the climate from human activity. 

The studio’s main assignment autumn 2021 is to design and build one or more places of refuge – open shelters designed to accommodate travellers through the landscape exploring the ever-changing scenery of the Arctic nature. The building material in focus will be driftwood – rescued from the shorelines of Varanger by local fishermen and carefully refined to become custom-made building blocks. This travel-tempered lumber once lost, becomes a valuable and novel material, with newfound purpose. The upcycle design approach - from waste to shelter - will be supported by design strategies for disassembly and re-use, telling a story about resources in the context of an infinite ecological cycle.

The protagonist of this driftwood initiative and our main arena in the Varanger region is the city of Vardø. The city has experienced decades of depopulation which has led to the dereliction of a number of buildings. Both cultural and material values hang in the balance, and as the municipality searches for initiatives that can reverse the trend, could the evolution of Vardø as a testbed for circular economy be one such spark?

The course will be run in parallel with IUL and Janike Kampevold Larsen´s elective course Circular Archive – Vardø, looking into how mapping of local resources may perpetuate circular thinking in the region.Both courses build upon studies on the topic started up during the spring semester of 2021.



The design strategies applied will emerge from an understanding of natural cyclic systems that form and shape our physical environment. The studio will through three introductory sub-assignments investigate the relation between these systems and the architectural design approach. The learning outcome from the course should be applicable to other design tasks where a minimal climate footprint is part of the ambition.

There will be two main tracks in the investigation of cyclic systems; climate cycles and carbon cycles,understood at both a global and local level. 

Climate cycles: Knowledge on the natural climate cycles and local seasonal weather conditions will inform how the design can give shelter for human activities in a challenging Arctic environment. With a global climate in rapid change, the ability to forecast and adapt to future conditions adds further complexity to this task. The course will introduce tools and methods that can catalyze the design process and enable evaluation of different strategies and concepts. 

Carbon cycles: To reach the UN sustainability goal of climate action and carbon neutrality in 2050, the global society will need to introduce a circular economy and bring the use of resources in balance with what the ecosystems can sustainably supply. This requires an extensive use of reclaimed materials for future architecture, and a design approach that is based on a material archive of what exists rather than virgin products. 



The Nordic context and research work on zero carbon buildings provides the background for investigation. The methodology and tools introduced are developed and tested in the profession and about to become mandatory requirements for the building industry going forwards. Course material will be conveyed through lectures, project references and visitation, and in turn linked to project sub-assignments of both theoretical and practical nature.  



The studio pays special attention to the importance of enabling students – the next generation of architects - to actively participate in the professional discourse and thereby contribute to ongoing innovation processes leading towards societies’ existence in balance with nature This is facilitated by bringing in voices that represents a broad spectrum of perspectives, within our own field of work, as well as from neighbouring engineering disciplines, decoding terminology and translating quantifiable measures into design response.

The studio teaching, all sub-assignments and the main assignment design phase will take place at AHO. Particular emphasis is placed on the development of a functional project providing fully constructable working drawings, these will be integral to the final evaluation of the studio work. The construction phase will be during the studytrip week 41, the remaining weeks of the semester concentrating on a further deep-dive into the possibilities of a circular building practice in the region of Varanger, summed up as individual lectures for a final review of the learning outcome. 

Given the level of uncertainty due to Corona virus, should travel to Varanger and/or physical construction become a factor then the course is structured so it may be conducted on a purely theoretical basis.



The In Balance studio focuses on design assignments in the Arctic climate zone. The course builds on experiences gained through the previous In Balance studios focusing on Svalbard (2019/2020) and this semesters circular design-built efforts soon resulting in a fully operating community greenhouse  on a central site in Vardø. Further, the studio leans to field research executed in the Future North project hosted by Institute of Urbanism and Landscape,  through which the fruitful collaboration between Vardø and AHO was first established. 


Course organization and teaching methods

The design studio work will conclude in a realistic architectural proposal, documented with 2D drawings, 3D models – both digital and analogue. The proposal will eventually be constructed 1:1 by the students and teachers in collaboration with local recourses. 

The core teacher team will consist of Tine Hegli and Kristian Edwards. Additional teaching resources – both internal and external – will be assigned to the sub-assignments and participate in plenary reviews throughout the semester. 


The course will include:

  • Introductory sub-assignments that generate a common knowledge base for the studio curriculum 
  • Tutoring in the studio (or on digital platforms)
  • Lectures by teachers, invited architects and engineering expertise
  • Site visits to see relevant architecture in the Oslo region
  • Field trip to Varanger and Vardø week 41
  • Plenary reviews


The course will be bringing in expertise within the following subject areas:

  • Urbanism and landscape – resources from previous and ongoing research work at AHO focusing on societies, resources and landscapes in the Artic region. Contribution will focus on place development and community building in marginal communities.
  • Circular design strategies – expertise within the building industry on designing by principals for a circular economy (re-use/re-cycle/up-cycle/design for disassembly/designing out waste etc)
  • Climate analysis – expertise within the building industry with knowledge on the use of climatic simulations (Computational Fluid Dynamics - CFD/Solar radiation/Daylight/outdoor microclimate modelling) 
  • Vardø – local stakeholders will be involved in the production of driftwood building blocks as well as in the up-scaling of a circular building practice in the region.


Learning outcome


  • On the impact of human activity in the ecosystems at large, with special focus on the reduction of buildings climate footprint.
  • On the relevance of mapping both physical properties, and cultural identities and values when establishing a material archive from reclaimed sources.
  • On design processes that seek to actively respond to and utilize the local climate (wind, snow, rainfall, solar radiation, daylight). 
  • On the importance of bottom-up strategies and community resilience in marginal Arctic communities. 



  • To be able to critically engage in the discourse concerning sustainable design, both on a societal level and within a professional environment including the terms and vocabulary that defines zero emissionand circular design strategies. 
  • To be able to recognise the mechanisms of circularity, identify resource value from alternative perspectives and engender them in a unified concept.
  • To be able to analyse and utilize local climate parameters to design well adapted spaces for outdoors activities.


General competence

  • To develop a sustainable conceptual design based on principals of circular economy.
  • To realize the design through form, materials and details.
  • To develop an individual position to where the students can actively question and debate the ongoing societal changes and how architecture can play an important role in the transitions.









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