Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!
Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!

Matthew Pietryga - "Arctic unspecified".

14 of March '20

We publish more student works selected in the preselection in the competition for press reportage on architecture. We invite you to read the text of Mateusz Pietryga entitled. "Arctic undefined".

Mateusz Pietryga - a student at The Oslo School of Architecture. He graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the Silesian University of Technology and Universität Kassel. He gained his professional experience at OMA in Rotterdam and OVO Grąbczewscy Architekci, as well as working as a Junior Architect at Atelier Thomas Pucher in Austria.

Arctic indefinite

The sun disappears behind one of the hills, creating a massive shadow falling on the city. It will reappear in two or three hours, but will not approach the horizon until next month. This is the polar day period in Spitsbergen, in the city of Longyearbyen, in the Arctic region north of the globe.

The city is located in a niche, between two mountains with flat peaks and sliding earth on the slopes. This location allows it to be protected from Arctic sea air to the east and strong winds from inland to the west. Destroyed homes and occasionally even fatalities, on the other hand, are an unpleasant consequence of this location.

The majestic mountains catch the eye, devoid of vegetation they seem almost unreal. At their foot, buildings begin to appear. A journey toward it does not suggest approaching a typical city center. The density of buildings, their scale or the distribution of important functions are quite spontaneous. Buildings sprout up in random places, bounded only by water and mountain elevations. Administrative boundaries of plots of land are virtually non-existent, no one here owns land on property. Today it is the city officials who make all the important decisions about expansion and allocate housing for a limited period of time.

The road from the port, one of the few paved ones, is a kind of warehouse. Its edge is flanked by freely scattered industrial creations. Often unusual, since the space industry plays an important role here. This allows for fast and efficient transportation, after all, the infrastructure here is only locally developed. Administrative oversight does not undertake to solve this as a problem - after all, the cost per square meter of storage here is huge, while companies willing to move their business to such an isolated world are few.

Longyearbyen, nowa
zabudowa mieszkaniowa

Longyearbyen, a new housing development

photo: Matthew Pietryga

Isolation can be seen as an opportunity to produce something unique. Spitsbergen has only recently realized its privileged position on the world tourism map. The huge increase in the number of visitors has pushed the authorities to clean up the space and introduce urban planning rules. They are starting small - with the introduction of a color palette for facades and an area-wide ban on vehicles and snowmobiles. Nonetheless, chaos is still evident here, resulting from previous neglect and a pragmatic approach to building characteristic of extreme weather conditions. Here, functionality still counts, which outclasses aesthetics and order.

Spatial disorder has resulted. The ubiquitous arms of water, sewage and heat installations. They have taken over the city like a virus, swirling and reaching into every habitat. The perpetually frozen ground defined their presence as overt, elevated above the ground, exposed in every detail. This is how they became a visible testament to how we humans strut our stuff in such a fragile landscape.

 Longyearbyen, widok
na miasto z Taubanesentralen

Longyearbyen, view of the city from Taubanesentralen

photo: Matthew Pietryga

This image accompanies almost every city in the Arctic. The Russian equivalent of Norway's Longyearbyen, located an hour and a half away by sea, has tried to cover up this aesthetic mess. In the town of Pyramiden, named for part of the shape of the mountain hovering above the town, a system of wooden pedestrian footbridges floating about one meter above the ground was created. Underneath the footbridge run pipes that are not used today, which supplied the buildings with water and energy. Their eventual loss of heat was supposed to give comfort to walking residents. Today, the Russian experiment to create an ideal city in the Arctic is a crumbling ruin, and its presence on Spitsbergen is merely political.

Longyearbyen operates on different principles. No one here had previously thought of creating an ideal city. The need for coal mining defined its existence, and the harsh climate forced solutions. You can see for yourself how temperature can define a way of life. Despite the summer time and the constant presence of the sun, it is difficult to escape the cold here. Only tourists and visitors try anymore. For locals, it's a time to stay outside the familiar walls, a time to take a much-awaited sunbath. Confirming this rule, buildings extend their interiors with wooden terraces on stilts.

They mimic the traditional Norwegian building style. Detached from the ground, they avoid contact with it at all costs. The zone of tolerance is one and a half meters, and any encounter will lead to the melting of the permafrost and, consequently, the loosening of the foundations. Here the building and the ground are separate stories, the contact of which has been regulatorily prohibited.

The severity of the climate in the face of man-made artificial matter is told by the ruins. Visible from every point in the city, the mines and accompanying infrastructure left unattended. Once an impressive coal mining industry in the north, today monuments to our harm to the environment. The last of Norway's coal mines now supplies a modest number of homes in Longyearbyen, only to give way to the upcoming use of solar power for this purpose.

Town center. A combination of administrative buildings, a single store supplying the entire town with food, several dining halls and a dozen stores selling traditional Norwegian souvenirs made in china. Nothing, however, suggests that this is a focal point of urban activity. It also looks in vain for a traditional town square or a building of a similar nature. If the town center designation were to be determined by local community activity, it would probably become a nearby bar.

As a result of climate change, i.e. a milder climate and the opening of new sea routes, an expansive policy of urban expansion in the Arctic began. The repercussions have affected Longyearbyen, where tourism has become as important as industry. Previous decisions made from the state headquarters, a few hundred kilometers away, were geared toward profit and establishing a presence in the area.

With the increasing urbanization and opening up of the northern part of the globe, the local community has suffered. As at the beginning of the 20th century in most European cities, the changes do not take into account the provision of quality public space for residents. The tourist activity program is expanding, while social activities remain unchanged. For Longyearbyen residents physically isolated from the rest of the world, a new type of separation is emerging - being a stranger in your own home.


The competition partner was Alufire

The vote has already been cast