Transpolar Studio is a spatial design practice specializing in landscape architecture, urbanism, and design research in the Arctic and Subarctic regions.

Mission

In the past, the Cir­cum­po­lar North’s built envi­ron­ment has been dom­i­nat­ed by a nation-state point of view, was influ­enced by design per­spec­tives appro­pri­ate to more south­ern land­scapes, as well as suf­fered from a lim­it­ed under­stand­ing by out­siders of the region’s inter­nal dynam­ics, unique cli­mat­ic con­di­tions, and diver­si­ty of peo­ple and cul­tures. In addi­tion, today, emerg­ing Arc­tic ship­ping routes, declin­ing sea ice, expand­ing resource extrac­tion, grow­ing mil­i­tary imper­a­tives, new geostrate­gic ambi­tions, and shift­ing tourism net­works indi­cate the Arc­tic is an increas­ing­ly acces­si­ble, con­test­ed, and com­plex three-dimen­sion­al space, while still heav­i­ly influ­enced by the out­side. This evo­lu­tion may offer plen­ti­ful eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties but also cre­ate new risks and con­cerns among the eight Arc­tic states and their peo­ple groups. In the role of the lead­ing design­er, col­lab­o­ra­tor, or con­sul­tant, Trans­po­lar Stu­dio aims to crit­i­cal­ly address these inher­ent­ly spa­tial chal­lenges through cre­ative design projects posi­tioned in the Arc­tic and Sub­arc­tic regions.

Office

Trans­po­lar Stu­dio oper­ates as a semi-nomadic design office based between Bel­gium and the Unit­ed States. The team includes Bert De Jonghe and Mia Ben­nett. Bert is a Bel­gian land­scape archi­tect, the founder of Trans­po­lar Stu­dio, and a Doc­tor of Design can­di­date at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty. Mia is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Geog­ra­phy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. She received a Ph.D. in Geog­ra­phy from UCLA and an MPhil in Polar Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, where she was a Gates Scholar.

Projects

Across the Arctic, a great deal of commercial aviation infrastructure has its roots in World War II military operations and their protraction during the Cold War.1 Although many of these military imperatives have weakened, the path dependency of air transportation networks, which require enormous amounts of fixed capital, makes them difficult to alter.

As airpower became key to global military might in the 20th century, Greenland’s neighbor, the United States, started building airstrips and missile defense sites in the country as a matter of national security. American interest heightened after April 9, 1940, when the Nazis invaded Denmark, which had controlled Greenland since the early 18th century. With Denmark unable to send supplies to Greenland, let alone exercise sovereignty over it, the Danish ambassador to the United States disobeyed the Danish government and signed an agreement granting American access to the world’s largest island.2 In addition to civilian resupply and the construction of facilities such as weather stations, ports, depots, search-and-rescue stations, and more, this agreement made it possible for the US to establish military airbases on Greenlandic soil. Greenland’s aeroscape was thus originally constructed to the needs of American military colonialism3 rather than those of Greenlanders.

Today, some Greenlandic policymakers are calling for the relocation of certain airports as both a necessary economic step and a move away from Danish and American histories. One example from eastern Greenland involves the proposed relocation of the military/civilian airport on Kulusuk Island (pop. 240) to the main population hub of Tasiilaq, 20 kilometers away (pop. 2000).4 Aligning Greenland’s aeroscape with centers of population and economic activity, however, could disconnect the settlements that initially arose to support American-built airports, and whose continued existence depends on their operation. As postcolonial nations work to reconfigure infrastructural networks to better match local needs, the difficulties that Greenland is encountering within this transition underscore the challenges of including communities whose origins lie in military and colonial interventions within new nation-building projects.

Kulusuk in Transit aims to draw attention to such issues. As a timely, creative, and people-driven project led by both Transpolar Studio (Bert De Jonghe) and Komafest (Brona Keenan and Bertine Tønseth), Kulusuk in Transit works with the local community of Kulusuk and explores the importance of airports as pulse points in Arctic communities. Also, the project aims to connect this small community in East Greenland with comparable communities in a wider Transarctic context, seek similarity, celebrate locality and regional variation, and acknowledge a diversity of different histories, identities, and narratives. More information about Kulusuk in Transit will be available in the coming months.

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1. M. Farish and P.W. Lackenbauer, “High Modernism in the Arctic: Planning Frobisher Bay and Inuvik,” Journal of Historical Geography 35, no. 3 (2009): 517—44.

2. J. Rahbek-Clemmensen, and L.J. Nielsen, “The Middleman—The Driving Forces behind Denmark’s Arctic Policy,” in Handbook on Geopolitics and Security in the Arctic, (Switzerland: Springer, 2020), 77—96.

3. M. Heymann, H. Knudsen, M. L. Lolck, H. Nielsen, and C. J. Ries, “Exploring Greenland: Science and Technology in Cold War Settings,” Canadian Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine 33, no. 2 (2010): 11—42.

4. Stine Bendsen, Jesper Nordskilde, and Mads Paabøl Jensen, “The Transport Commission of Greenland,” Association for European Transport and Contributors, 2011.

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Images: Kulusuk, Bert De Jonghe, 2017.

In recent decades, industrialization has strongly shaped the landscape of Murmansk, Kola Peninsula, Russia. By documenting and merging industrial sounds, this study frames the soundscape of Murmansk into a scene of complex negotiation processes between multiple actors, both local and global. Link

Transcoastal Narratives is an ongoing collaboration with Japanese photographer and landscape architect Akie Koh (Snøhetta, Oslo). Since 2019, Akie Koh and Bert De Jonghe have been taking images of coastal landscapes in Greenland, Norway, Belgium, Japan, and the US. The concept of this project is simple: we aim to find surprising similarities and ironic connections in often very different coastal landscapes. The collection of images represents a conversation, by which every image is a response to another. This response is focused on a particular landscape feature, materiality, or composition. The expected outcome of this work is an exhibition.

Publications

Book Chapter

Climate Change and the Opening of the Transpolar Sea Route: Logistics, Governance, and Wider Geo- economic, Societal and Environmental Impacts

  • Authors

    Mia M. Bennett, Scott R. Stephenson, Kang Yang, Michael T. Bravo, and Bert De Jonghe

  • Book Title

    The Arctic and World Order

  • Editors

    Kristina Spohr, Daniel S. Hamilton

  • Date

    December, 2020

  • Additional

    Link

Article

Tracing the Limits to Climate Adaptation: From the Pacific Small Island Developing States to the Arctic Region

  • Authors

    Begoña Peiro and Bert De Jonghe

  • Publisher

    KoozArch

  • Date

    November, 2022

  • Additional

    Link

Book

Inventing Greenland - Designing an Arctic Nation

  • Author

    Bert De Jonghe

  • Publisher

    Actar Publishers

  • Foreword

    Charles Waldheim

  • Editorial advice

    Mia M. Bennett

  • Date

    March, 2022

  • Additional

    Link

Article

Arctic Tourism and Urban Growth

  • Author

    Bert De Jonghe

  • Publisher

    UrbanNext

  • Editor

    Marta Bugés

  • Date

    April 2022

  • Additional

    Link

Conference presentation

Chromatic Geographies of Greenland

  • Speaker

    Bert De Jonghe

  • Session

    Unstable horizons: Reimagining, rewriting, and terraforming earthly volumes

  • Place

    Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers (2021)

Peer-Reviewed article

The opening of the Transpolar Sea Route: Logistical, geopolitical, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts

  • Authors

    Mia M. Bennett, Scott R. Stephenson, Kang Yang, Michael T. Bravo, and Bert De Jonghe

  • Journal

    Marine Policy Journal, Volume 121

  • Date

    November 2020

  • Additional

    Link

Opinion

Reimagining the Future of Habitation in Greenland

  • Author

    Bert De Jonghe

  • Published

    Arctic Today

  • Date

    August 4, 2020

Announcement

Harvard GSD

  • Author

    Barbara Miglietti

  • Date

    May 2022

  • Additional

    Link

Announcement

e-flux Architecture

  • Authors

    Bert De Jonghe and Ricardo Devesa

  • Date

    July 2022

  • Additional

    Link

Contact

Bert De Jonghe

Instagram: @transpolarstudio

Email: info@transpolarstudio.com