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Courtesy of Stantec


The new Airport Terminal Building in Iqaluit, slated for first flights in August of this year, is the first P3 (public-private partnership) airport building in North America. While a relatively modest size at just under 10,000 square metres, this is a very important facility, as it serves not only the immediate community, with all its government and public services, but also as the hub connecting the remote villages of the Territory with the south. 

As there are virtually no roads in the far north, the airport takes on an especially important role in the community. So Stantec’s role as the designers (architect and prime engineer) was to bring a strong architectural presence and distinctive cultural character, commensurate with the airport’s dual role as critical transportation infrastructure and as an important community meeting place in the capital. 

In plan the terminal is a simple rectangle, minimizing the number of building corners. The roof form is a sinuous curve containing both the single story and the two storey areas. This form achieves two goals. It minimizes the surface area of the building envelope, and provides a smooth continuous surface for the prevailing winds to scour the roof free of drifting snow. 

Iqaluit is actually a ‘desert’ climate with relatively low precipitation. However whatever snow does fall stays for the nine months and, with the high winds, snow drifts become a significant issue. 

At the terminal building a major drift would certainly form at the lee, or south, side of the building. To address this we introduced a building element well tested in the north — a ’snow scoop’, designed to move the drift away from the building face. 

Permafrost is overlain by an ‘active’ layer that thaws and freezes through the seasons, while the ‘permanent’ layer below is perpetually frozen. The foundations for the terminal are designed deep enough to rest on this solid, frozen layer. 

Tetra Tech EBA, a specialist consultant in this field, has worked with the subcontractor Arctic Foundations Ltd, to design and install a system of ‘thermosyphons’. 

As the name implies this system syphons the heat away before it reaches the layer of permafrost below. First there is a 200 mm thick layer of rigid insulation, located beneath the slab and projecting three metres beyond each edge of the building, to impede heat flow into the ground. Below that is a series of 25 mm diameter horizontal pipes, ‘evaporators’, embedded into a layer of stable gravel, the new, engineered active layer. 

As in most northern communities, energy is very expensive in Iqaluit and the systems somewhat erratic and unreliable. Fuel oil is shipped in by tanker in the ice-free months and converted to electricity in the city’s generator plant. 

In order to optimize their energy usage and to provide for self- sufficiency, the client and the design team have chosen a ‘combined heat and power’ (CHP) system for the new terminal building. This operates in parallel with the local power utility. 

The lighting design reduces energy consumption by 50% over a typical building through reduced lighting power density inside and outside the building, and additional interior lighting controls. The building also features significant improvements in roof and wall insulation over a typical building (90% and 30% respectively). These measures result in an energy use reduction of more than 40% compared to a typical building in the North, and a similar reduction in potable water use. [1]


Engineers Canada Awards National Award, Engineering Project or Achievement, 2018 

CCPPP National Awards Gold Award for Infrastructure, 2017 

P3 Bulletin Awards Best Rail/Transit Project – Gold Award, 2014 


[1]       “The New Iqaluit International Airport.” Canadian Consulting Engineer. Accessed July 7, 2021. https://www.canadianconsultingengineer.com/features/new-iqaluit-international-airport/.

Additional information:

“Iqaluit Airport.” Bouygues Bâtiment International, April 21, 2020. https://www.bouyguesbatimentinternational.com/reference/iqaluit-airport/.

“Iqaluit International Airport Improvement Project: Project Report.” Government of Nunavut, January 2014. https://gov.nu.ca/sites/default/files/iqaluit_international_airport_improvement_project_report.pdf.

Merrithew, Leslie. “Engineering the Impossible at Nunavut’s Iqaluit Airport.” Stantec Blog. Stantec, n.d. https://www.stantec.com/en/ideas/content/blog/2018/engineering-the-impossible-at-nunavut-s-iqaluit-airport .

“Projects: Iqaluit Airport.” Projects in Canada. Stantec, 2017. https://www.stantec.com/en/projects/canada-projects/i/iqaluit-airport.

“Vancouver Firm Takes over Operation of Iqaluit Airport.” Nunatsiaq News, April 22, 2019. https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/vancouver-firm-takes-over-operation-of-iqaluit-airport/.


Project Title: Iqaluit Airport
Artists:  Stantec
Year: 2017

Place: Iqaluit, Nunavut

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