How a climate-driven design approach enables this Greenland residential project
BIOSIS creates residential complex in Nuuk shaped by the winds and sunlight.
26 Mar 2024

Danish multi-disciplinary studio BIOSIS’ first completed project in Nuuk on Greenland is a residential complex based on its philosophy of climate-driven design. The new building aims to respectfully submit and adapt to the extreme climate and landscape of Greenland while providing its residents with lasting comfort.

— With its location on the edge to the nearby valley and upcoming coast trail called Kyststien, Nuukullak 10 will play an important role in connecting people with the striking and recreational landscape that surrounds it, says Mikkel Thams Olsen, architect and co-founder.

What’s the climate-driven design approach that you work with?

— We specialise in using climatic conditions as a distinct design driver within building design, urban development, and landscape, Thams and his co-founder Morten Vedelsbøl explain. Currently, we operate in Scandinavia, the North Atlantic, and the Arctic — regions that experience climatic extremes vastly different from temperate climates. The ambient temperature in these regions reaches extreme values, the solar pattern differs significantly, and wind patterns exert substantial influence on the local microclimate around buildings.

— To address these challenges, we embrace a philosophy of climate-driven design founded on the premise of applying a sustainable approach as a visible architectural statement in our resilient designs. Our work is rooted in research, data, and natural conditions, allowing us to respond effectively to the topography, environment, and landscape preconditions of the areas in which we work.

— We identify and implement design solutions that enhance the resilience, functionality, and safety of outdoor amenities through a variety of strategies. These range from optimising building massing to utilizing vegetation and social spaces to maximise benefits for building users, supporting their comfort, health, and long-term resilience.

— In the case of Nuukullak 10 in Nuuk, the building’s design is shaped by the winds and sunlight, breaking down the wind and optimising the limited daylight hours of winter. This is achieved through a distinctive horseshoe shape that encloses a courtyard, providing protection against harsh northern winds while allowing daylight to permeate the south-facing structure of the building.

What are the challenges and lessons learned with this approach? 

— With operations across the different mentioned regions, we have acquired a fundamental understanding of and experience in working within these remote areas where nature is prevailing. It has become essential for us to create nature-based designs that seamlessly integrate with the landscape instead of imposing upon it, Thams and Vedelsbøl explain. They continue:

— So rather than forcing the landscape to conform to the architecture through practices such as blasting and altering the local topography and biotopes, we allow our designs to adapt to the natural surroundings and enhance local plant life. The structure of Nuukullak 10 respectfully follows the natural topography, both vertically and horizontally, allowing the mountain and landscape to subtly influence its profile. Our goal is to minimise impact and preserve and respect the natural terrain and habitat. By incorporating the rocky features of the site into the design, the building becomes a harmonious extension of its environment.

— We have become successful in assisting our clients in identifying undeveloped land that they may not have initially considered suitable for development, all while ensuring minimal impact on the landscape. This is particularly crucial in many of the areas we operate in, where there is an urgent need for new housing and land is scarce. We experience strong demand and a need for thoughtful and innovative design development in many regions.

— Utilising these tools to unlock new potentials and identify suitable land within existing cities, towns, or settlements for sustainable development is essential for both ourselves as architects and for our clients, whether they are private developers or municipalities.

”Achieving LEED certification holds little value if the building is demolished within a decade”

Looking ahead, what will be the most important factors to further reduce your sector’s emissions and impact? And what’s required to accomplish that?

— We employ various strategies in our methodology, such as incorporating energy-efficient features like solar panels, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting systems, Thams and Vedelsbøl share, continuing,

— Since we work in regions that are both affected by climate change and extreme weather, a lot of our attention is directed to designing resilient structures that can withstand natural disasters like storms, rising sea levels, and extreme temperatures without damaging the buildings and protecting its habitants. This is accomplished through the climate-driven design approach and the use of durable materials engineered to endure natural elements and extreme conditions. These methods are applicable to all climates, from the hottest to the coldest.

— The most sustainable structures are those that are built to endure and remain functional for years to come. Achieving LEED certification holds little value if the building is demolished within a decade to make way for new construction. As architects, it is our responsibility to prioritise longevity in our designs, ensuring that our buildings endure the challenges of our evolving climate.

Nuukullak 10.