Architecture: A New Conversation in Kivalina

Architecture without Borders Austria is designing a new Re-Location center in Kivalina. The Re-Location center will be owned by the people of Kivalina as a space where the village and its collaborators can discuss and design relocation possibilities. Their participatory design process is creating opportunities for the village and related agencies to co-develop models for buildings in Kivalina to be designed more specifically to reflect climate, site, and social life in the village.

While in Kivalina this past July, Architecture without Borders began work on the Re-Locate Center by building a 1:1 building model, opening an on-site studio, and workshopping architectural designs with people in Kivalina. This series of projects marks the beginning of an ongoing collaboration to explore practices and methods capable of producing culturally specific and situational architecture in Kivalina.

The drawings and design work produced on site in Kivalina are celebrated as a part of an ongoing conversation about architecture and the full context of issues that influence Kivalina’s built environment, and are not intended to represent finished products. The team of architects continues to work back home in Vienna to further the design work they began in Kivalina and to invite feedback and critique to ensure that participatory design processes are more fully understood and reflected in their architectural methods and building systems studies are conducted with the expertise of local scientists and engineers.

This blog entry documents aspects of each of the four “tools” Architecture Without Borders used to initiate a participatory design process with the people of Kivalina.

1-1 Model

Architecture without Borders Austria installed a full-scale architectural mockup of a new Re-Location Center next door to Kivalina’s city and tribal office building—the future site of the proposed Center. The 1-1 model simulated main aspects of the Center’s design, such the installation of a second floor and the framing of ocean and street views.

To build the 1-1 model, Architecture without Borders Austria used materials found on site and around Kivalina, in combination with imported materials made available by state and federal agencies. Weather conditions, such as cold temperatures and a steady wind, posed extra design challenges.

The construction and design process attracted a constant crowd of kids and lots of friendly people interested in and open to talking about the model’s proposals.Architecture without Borders was excited to create a space for conversation about architecture in the village, to listen and share ideas, and discuss ways to develop the design in new directions.


The Studio

The team of architects from Architecture without Borders Austria transformed an old Search and Rescue building that is currently not in use into an office, meeting space, and on-site design studio.


They tidied up the room and repurposed old items and materials to create work surfaces and gathering places. The old washing machine became a presentation table. A slide found outside of the building was transformed into a counter.

Old yellow insulation tubes were used as chairs and legs for a table outside and an old steel-door became a table-board. Gypsum boards were used to build a division wall and an access ramp was fixed up in order to provide a safe entrance to the studio.

Because of the harsh weather conditions, the group was happy to have a protected space on the building site where they could work, install their design workshop, host meetings, hang drawings, and open their process up to people in the village.

Architectural Design

In addition to the 1:1-model and the studio, Architecture without Borders Austria developed a building concept through traditional architectural design methods that included sketches, drawings, and models. The concept for the new Re-Location Center building suggests an orientation toward the south in order to make use of solar gains for heating and hot water.

The building is separated into two different temperature zones, an inner shell for colder months surrounded by an outer shell with lower heating requirements.

The ground floor consists of a core-area surrounded by a semi-public, H-shaped area where spaces could be grouped or separated from each other according to different specific needs. The upper floor features a semi-public area for more communal activities and a private area for temporary living. Views to the south-lying sea create a connection to the outside.

This building concept serves as a starting point for an open and participative design process conducted with and for the people of Kivalina in order to start a discussion about architecture that more specifically reflects Kivalina’s climate, site conditions, and social and cultural life.


Architecture without Borders Austria presented and discussed their design concept for the new Re-location Center in several face-to-face-meetings with the people of Kivalina. They held design workshops in the on-site studio with Kivalina’s craftsmen, teenagers,  members of the city and tribal councils, and various others interested in the concepts and design of a new Re-location Center.

These meetings generated a vital exchange of knowledge and enabled Architecture without Borders Austria to learn from people in Kivalina about traditional housing, construction methods, current building practices, village life and living conditions, and construction financing and planning.

The conversations held in Kivalina over models, sketches, and drawings have affected the overall design process in noteworthy ways. For example, a big kitchen and sufficient space for storing tools—two needs important to homeowners—informed discussions that helped the concept design evolve to respond  more specifically to life in Kivalina.

Finally, the Re-Locate Project invited the community of Kivalina to attend an “Open House” in the studio at the old Search and Rescue Building, where all the Re-Locate Project partners presented their work in order to share and discuss it with the people of Kivalina.

In the end, the studio at the old Search and Rescue Building has already begun to simulate the new Re-location center as an open space for communication and exchange for the people of Kivalina and its partners, where everybody can join and participate in discussing and planning Kivalina’s future.


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