For Gannett Fleming’s Architectural Practice Manager Steven Knaub, AIA, LEED AP, the hypothetical Subarctic Training and Research Center in Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve is a perfect example of unbuilt architecture furthering design exploration. He revisits and refines unexecuted projects periodically, adjusting them based on experience, new standards, and innovations.
This design solution considers the center’s remoteness and imagines unique forms of dedicated transportation, such as electric-assist mountain bikes, to reach nearby observation sites on the mountaintop location. The project would also require unique design and construction techniques to prevent sinking or differential settlement caused by building heat melting the permafrost. Climate change presents challenges where passive measures may become insufficient, adding special materials and technology, such as refrigerated foundations, to the thought process. Finally, harnessing wind for electricity and solar for passive heating helps avoid emissions that change atmospheric chemistry.
“The research happening at facilities like this one, in Earth’s extreme environments, serves as proverbial canaries in coal mines. They are at the heart of understanding the delicate balances and thresholds important to environmental health and species preservation. Unbuilt projects like this training and research center design can serve as a platform for architects to envision and propose sustainable, resilient, and adaptable designs that address the challenges of carefully building in unique geographies,” explained Knaub.