George Watt Architecture was retained to work along side the Newtok Traditional Council exploring ideas to build housing, public buildings and infrastructure as the entire village prepares to move to its new home 8 miles away and 250 feet up on nearby Nelson Island. The new village of Mertarvik (meaning “to carry water from the spring”) will be created using advanced building systems along with the latest energy production and efficiency technologies while maintaining the culture that is rooted in over 2000 years of a traditional Yup’ik Eskimo subsistence lifestyle of hunting and fishing.
Numerous discussions and worksessions with members of the Council, a personal survey of every member of the village conducted to understand individual concerns (and dreams), and deep research into cold climate construction informed our designs. The first building due to be completed in summer 2013 is the Mertarvik Evacuation Center, the foundation and platform for which was built last season. This net-zero energy building has been designed to provide shelter during a flood event in Newtok, transition to a construction camp support building, and eventually become a community center while the village homes are built out.
The individual home designs are based on a response to the environment and culture – materials and architecture that provide protection from the wind and snow, spaces that capture sunlight and landscape, and interiors that comfortably accommodate either a small group or the entire extended family. All of the homes will be powered by a community solar PV array and wind farm.
The construction concept is “keep it simple”. Simple to build, simple to expand, simple to maintain. The entire building envelope – the floors, walls, and roofs are designed using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) which provides a common flexibility to the design and construction of each home and building. The building and design system also lends itself to the very important idea that we are not building for the people of Newtok, but with them.
A key goal of our project steps beyond architecture. It is to utilize the construction of the first few buildings to provide training in building and design methods to the people of Newtok. It is our intention that they will take the experiences and expertise brought to them to not only complete their own village but expand out to other areas in similar circumstances.