Habitation in Extreme Environments was a studio of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design that occurred fall 2014. From the introduction: Extreme climates introduce a design challenge for architects. In a context of harsh environments, it is especially important to design buildings that respond to prevailing conditions—not only as a protective measure but as a benefit for future generations. Given dramatic climate shifts, housing design translates into a matter of immediate life safety for existing populations. In response to these demands, remote settlements in the North must be designed and constructed in accordance with ideas of self-sufficiency and back-up energy systems. Many vernacular building traditions can serve as a reference for designing environments that are holistically sustainable within extreme climatic conditions that challenge comfortable human habitation in the North.
This situation requires incisive designs that respond to irregular loading from strong winds, heavy snowfall, avalanches, and extreme cold. These phenomena are often sudden and unpredictable. Risk of severe weather increases the vulnerability of human habitation to the natural surroundings. The dichotomy between vernacular housing traditions and the latest innovation in building technology establishes an interesting terrain for the design of comfortable living environments. Housing, in particular, must achieve levels of self-sufficiency in such environments to decrease dependency on links to external infrastructure networks that can be severed during periods of harsh weather. At the same time, complications in material provision and inaccessible, remote terrain introduce ideas of prefabrication and economy of construction within these challenging contexts. Designing inhabitable environments must therefore respond effectively to scarcity, inaccessibility, and unpredictability with innovation particular to extreme climates.
The Harvard University Graduate School of Design sponsored an option studio during the fall of 2014 that dealt with housing in the North. Students questioned and researched traditional European alpine settlements in an attempt to develop new approaches to contemporary architecture within a North American context.
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