Peter Aagaard Brixen

DTU tests new principles for Arctic construction

Tuesday 23 Mar 21


Tove Lading
Associate Professor
DTU Civil Engineering
+45 45 25 17 38

Arctic Building and Construction

The Arctic Building and Construction (ABC) project has five sub-projects:

1. Building physics and indoor climate
2. Process
3. Sustainability
4. Architecture and urban spaces
5. Resident satisfaction

The research project is the joint initiative of Aalborg University, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, the University of Greenland, and several private actors.

The test house is an independent project linked to the ABC project, and trials a new model for construction in the Arctic in practice. The model was developed by Vandkunsten Architects and Ramboll, following an exhibition project for the Biennale
Architettura in Venice in 2012. The test house has been financed by A.P. Møller Fonden. 

The total ABC project has a budget of approx. DKK 22 million. The money comes from private foundations, the Government of Greenland, municipalities, and DTU itself.
For more information, see

Three construction strategies

There are currently three strategies for how to build in Greenland. The ABC project is collecting data on these three strategies:
1. Build using inorganic materials: The Department of Housing under the Government of Greenland is focussing on construction using only inorganic materials, i.e. completely without wood. The expectation is that this will avoid mould and reduce the need for maintenance.
2. Build in the normal manner: A common policy among builders is to build in the normal manner, i.e. with load-bearing concrete partition walls and light facades with a wooden structure. Sticking to known working methods reduces the number of errors. Many mistakes have resulted from building using unfamiliar methods.
3. Alternative construction: Several, mainly private sector, actors are offering to build using new materials and methods, including wood structures made from cross-laminated timber (CLT). DTU’s test house in Nuuk also represents such an alternative way to build.

In the largest construction research project in Greenland to date, DTU is exploring traditional and new ways of building in an Arctic climate.

In September 2020, DTU opened a test home on a high cliff top in Nuuk, Greenland. The house aims to answer whether there is a future in building houses with a covered outdoor space—an intermediate zone between inside and outside—and whether the residents will value it.

DTU’s researchers will monitor the house for two years, during which it will be occupied by a family. While the house is inhabited, researchers will measure moisture and temperature in the structure and indoor climate, both inside the house and in the intermediate zone, and compare the measurements with weather data. The researchers will also interview the test family about their experience of living in the house, and what they think about the house’s indoor climate and functionality. The test house is part of the Arctic Building and Construction (ABC) project. With a budget of DKK 22 million, this is the largest construction research project conducted in Greenland to date.

“The ABC project will give us more knowledge about the best way to build in Arctic conditions. There is no consensus on this in Greenlandic society, and there is need to gather more data and experience. The focus is not just on structures and materials, but also on the building process, logistics, how to build a good town in Arctic conditions, and what residents think about living in their homes,” says Tove Lading, Project Manager and Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering. 

Test of dual building envelope 

The test house trials a structure with a two-part building envelope. It consists of an outer layer of polycarbonate, which protects against wind and rain but allows light to penetrate, and an inner layer with heat, moisture, and sound insulation in the living spaces. In two places in the house, the polycarbonate extends across an intermediate zone—an unheated and naturally temperate space which can be used as a sun room or utility room.

“The test house aims to clarify whether a dual building envelope has technical advantages in the Arctic. We are also investigating whether the intermediate zone is an attractive option for residents. We are monitoring the climate in the rooms throughout the year, and how residents use them,” says Tove Lading.

Data from several buildings

In addition to the test house, researchers have erected a test pavilion with six different outer wall structures. Moisture and temperature are measured in these structures, to see how well they withstand the effects of the weather.

The researchers are also collecting data from 12-15 new residential buildings in Greenland, in parallel with the measurements in the test house and the structures in the test pavilion. The measurements are sent from the various buildings to DTU in Denmark in real time, where the researchers analyse the collected data. The first sensors were installed in 2018. The measurement programme will be followed up by assessment of the construction process and sustainability, and interviews with the building parties and residents. All of the collected material will be used to evaluate the quality, buildability, and durability of the various buildings.

Sustainability assessed 

Sustainability in Arctic construction is a special element of the ABC project. Sustainable construction in Greenland is not necessarily the same as in Denmark or other countries. 

For example, the transportation of building materials, energy consumption, and waste disposal can weigh more heavily in the calculations in Greenland, which has few local building materials. Life cycle analyses (LCA) are one of the methods used by researchers to assess sustainability. In addition to the homes covered by the measurement programme, researchers have assessed the sustainability of renovating old homes, compared to demolition and new construction.

Other sub-projects in the ABC project focus on process and economics, on how to build a good Arctic town—including conditions such as snow, ice and wind around buildings and in urban spaces, and on residents’ satisfaction with the various homes. The project has been running four years and ends in 2023.

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