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Evaluation of a Planned Community
in Arctic Canada

Technical Series 94-219
Key Messages

  • Nanisivik is a mining town of a few hundred population, built in the high Arctic in the late 1970s.
  • Several features contributed to a high quality of life and fewer problems than is usual in other cold region communities.
  • The town is designed around a focal point - the Dome - which houses a communal dining room, daycare centre, offices and a large community hall.
  • The quality of housing is equal to or superior to that in other remote communities.
  • Work days are longer than the norm and wives of workers may also work for the mine.
  • Inuit families were integrated into the housing and work environment.
  • Introduction

    Nanisivik, situated in the High Arctic, is a planned remote community. Many theories exist concerning the design and development of such communities. Evaluations of these communities are useful to help determine which features support and enhance livability of the community.

    One idea incorporated in the design of Nanisivik was the concept of designing a community around a behavioural focal point. A behavioural focal point serves as a setting in a community where a variety of different activities occur. It is a place where anyone in the community can go to find out what is happening. The focal point in Nanisivik is a large dome building approximately 35 m (115 feet) in diameter at the base, standing 14 m (45 feet) high. By designing the community around this focal point, it was intended that more social interaction would occur. Figure 1 shows a layout of the town.

    Layout of Nanisivik
    FIGURE 1. Layout of Nanisivik Enlarged Image


    Nanisivik is a mining community in the Northwest Territories, located 765 km north of the Arctic Circle. It is situated on the south shore of Strathcona Sound, a deep water fjord off Admiralty Inlet on the Borden Peninsula of Baffin Island.

    Nanisivik was established by a combination of Canadian mining interests and European metal corporations with the Canadian government as an interested third partner. Zinc and lead ores are mined, concentrated and stored during the winter and shipped out during several weeks of navigable weather in the late spring and summer.

    In 1978, about 350 people lived on site, including a number of families. The work force was supplemented by workers from Arctic Bay, an Inuit community 27 km (17 miles) away. There were 320 adults employed by the mining company (Nanisivik Mines Limited), 36 adults employed by various government and civil agencies and 99 children on site. Of the adults, approximately 60% were male and 40% were female. About 23.4% were Inuit.

    These figures fluctuated frequently in the early years of development. During the year of the survey, turnover of workers was about 35% and 25 (7.8%) new people were added to the work force. In addition, about 70 different construction workers came on site and about 150 soldiers and other visitors passed through the community. All these factors give Nanisivik a constantly changing social environment.

    Evaluation Methods

    Several different investigative techniques were used to evaluate the community.

    A behaviour-setting survey measured the total behaviour of the community. Residents were interviewed to determine the activities pursued during the year, both inside and outside the home. A base line of 8,760 hours for the year was used for each person who lived in the house. Sleeping time (usually eight hours per night), vacations, trips, shopping, work, movies, school and other activities outside the house were subtracted from the base line to give hours spent in the house. These hours were divided into activities and each activity was tested to see if the house design encouraged or inhibited this type of human behaviour.

    Public behaviour settings are activities open to the entire community, such as school classes, government services, meetings and sports. These settings were measured by questioning the leaders of the setting about time and duration of activity, number of people attending and the behaviour taking place. For each behaviour setting, the design of the room or space where it had taken place was tested for appropriateness by observing the behaviour in context and by asking people using the setting how well the environment was adapted to their activity. Interviews and observations provided converging data on design effectiveness.

    In addition to the behaviour-setting survey, respondents described aspects of the buildings they liked or disliked, had trouble with, or truly enjoyed. Photographs of settings were taken to illustrate points uncovered in the data collection. The researchers also looked for external signs of wear such as broken or repaired fixtures, worn pathways, and other signs of human use of an environment. These data, taken together, were used in a design evaluation based directly on the observations of the users of the environment. The environment was also compared to other environments previously studied by the same technique.


    Two major policy decisions have influenced the quality of life at Nanisivik. The first of these was to provide a quality of housing equal to or superior to the housing which most residents had encountered in other remote or northern communities. The result was that housing became a positive experience associated with the community.

    The housing shortcomings at Nanisivik seem to result more from the present state of housing construction in the Arctic than from faulty design. Windows that do not work and lights that are too dim are faults easily corrected. The settling, or truss uplift that caused some ceilings to part from interior walls, is merely the result of inadequate understanding, care, and attention to installation in some of the housing units. These problems point out the difficulty in conveying knowledge about Arctic construction to the proper sources.

    The integration of Inuit families in the housing and work environment of Nanisivik is another factor contributing to the quality of its life. Since the housing is of better quality, Inuit families view the experience as positive despite some cultural adjustment problems.

    The second policy decision was to increase the amount of time employees spent working, and to employ the wives of workers. The increase in time spent at work agrees with previous experiences in military bases in Alaska, where it was found that increasing work loads resulted in fewer domestic problems. Increased work hours drastically reduced the amount of time spent in the home and in recreational pursuits in the home. However, the data show that in public settings the recreational level in Nanisivik is above the average for comparable communities.

    As the community's needs exceeded the capacity of the dome (focal point), new buildings (including the recreation centre) were constructed that somewhat diluted the dome's original purpose. But it appears that Nanisivik functions relatively well without having an ideal focal point for its activities.

    However, there was a problem in participation for the swimming pool. It appeared, at the time of the study, that adult participation had dropped off and that some effort would need to be made to raise participation to justify the presence of such an expensive facility. Suggestions for increasing adult participation included:

  • allowing residents to keep towels and swimsuits in lockers at the pool which would permit them to swim on impulse instead of having to plan a trip home to collect swimming gear;
  • scheduling separate adults' and children's nights; and
  • altering the architectural layout/design to make the pool more accessible and visible.

    The last of these suggestions is the most expensive and difficult to implement.

    If the pool is easily observed from a main activity point, it is more likely people will be attracted to it both to watch, to participate, and be seen. When the pool is in a separate building, it requires people to make a social commitment when they leave a building to go to the pool. In addition, in winter this often involves suiting up for the cold. These elements work against participation.

    An obvious, but perhaps prohibitively expensive, solution would be to enclose all the recreational facilities in a larger dome. Short of that, a dome could serve as a kind of central mall on which all the other buildings front. This would be a consideration in the design and construction of a new site. About the best that could be done for the present site would be to connect the recreational building and the dome at both the ground and second floor levels.


    Overall, the town of Nanisivik is one of the better examples of state-of-the-art design for Arctic communities. It seems to have avoided many of the past mistakes made in building remote communities.

    An effort was made to build an integrated community: the Inuit are included in housing and work situations; a mixture of singles and families adds to the diversity of the community; and fewer social problems were encountered than is usual in other isolated cold region communities. Nanisivik is a place that is recognized as a good environment for families, children and workers. The significance of the dome as the focal point of the town was diluted by later construction, but remains as the centre of daily community life. Building links between the dome and the newer recreational buildings would encourage participation and aid in maintaining a unified town centre. Although this would only restore the focal point to a fraction of its original effectiveness, the original plan is still a qualified success.

    Current Observations

    This post-occupancy evaluation was carried out in 1978 and 1979, shortly after the building of the community and in its early stages of development and operation. However, the evaluation still serves as a valid statement of the success of community plan and the wisdom of the goals and policies established by the mine developers and managers.

    Approximately 15 years have passed since this study was completed. Although the town was designed as a relatively medium-term community (i.e. about 15-year mine life), it was still active in 1994 and Nanisivik Mines is still fully operational. The population of the community has not changed noticeably from the levels indicated earlier in this report. New dwelling units have been added over the years to house the more stable operating population as compared to the more changeable construction and start-up population. There are approximately 70 residential structures in the community, providing accommodation for about 67 families (i.e. two-, three- or four-bedroom dwelling units), 20 couples or singles (i.e. one-bedroom dwelling units) and about 112 single-status workers (i.e. private rooms with shared lounge and common areas). The dome is still a main focal point, continuing to be the central food preparation and service facility for lunch-time meals for all, as well as providing meals at other times for single workers, shift workers and so on. It houses the daycare centre and offices for various individuals involved with town services. It is also used as the main assembly and entertainment area for large special functions such as Christmas celebrations and similar events.

    For more information on land use planning, see Technical Series 94-213, Community Development and Design in the North.


    Post Occupancy Evaluation of a Planned Community in Arctic Canada, by Robert B. Bechtel and C. Burgess Ledbetter, United States Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, prepared for Directorate of Military Programs Office, Chief of Engineers. February 1980.

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