Re-visiting 'Arctic Architecture':
Critical historiography, counter ethnography and experimental practice
Developing ‘the indigenous’ as a critical category through which to examine the origins and legacies of ‘regionalism’ in architecture, I enact a strategic displacement of Ralph Erskine from his current ‘heroic’ status in the architectural canon. Turning to alternative histories of forced relocations, tundra invasions and aggressive, government-sponsored programmes of assimilation, I reconsider Erskine’s understanding of the North through the lens of majority-minority politics. My primary focus on the interplay between Erskine’s work and the heightened, post-war colonisation of Inuit and Sámi cultures leads to a re-examination of the ongoing reception, consumption and dissemination of ‘Arctic’ projects in the international architectural press.
I focus on two areas in particular: archival research in the Ralph Erskine Archive held at The Swedish Museum of Architecture in Stockholm (Arkitekturmuseet) and fieldwork in Erskine’s Arctic town planning experiments in Kiruna and Svappavara, Sweden and Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canada. Though never fully completed, Erskine championed these works throughout his lifetime as landmark achievements, presenting them – as do his historians – as successful blueprints for building in the North. Norberg-Schulz plays a key role here, openly celebrating Erskine’s work as a paradigm of regionalist design practice and a genuine expression of contemporary Nordic identity.
The ‘reflexive turn’ in current anthropological discourse informs my revisionist approach to this material. Like Erskine’s original work in the studio and pseudo-ethnographic forays into the field, I understand my ‘second generation’ investigations of his archive and Arctic building projects to be acts of identity construction. Accepting that my work is, as I argue Erskine’s was, predominantly performative by nature, I choose to embrace and make use of the slide toward wilful invention.
The results are two-fold. A series of essays present and examine the research material, posing broader questions also about the meaning, position and use of fieldwork and archives for contemporary architectural scholarship. Alongside these essays comes a body of creative works for exhibition: documentary films, drawings and photographs capturing my visits to Kiruna, Svappavara and Resolute Bay and Erskine’s archive in Stockholm; performative re-enactments of Erskine’s architectural persona; interventions (real or imagined) within Erskine’s partly-finished urban master plans; and fictional competition entries, both retroactive and projected, for architectural projects in the circumpolar North.
ART+DESIGN TEACHING RESEARCH IN PROGRESS 01 02 jérémie michael mcgowan art+design : teaching : research About Home CV Work © 2011