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The Igloo

This image is a public domain image, no copyright. Inuit building Igloo.

Environmental factors greatly impact human life, including elements such as clothing, building practices, and diet. In Canada, the Indigenous people who lived in the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains, and Eastern Woodlands explored innovative ways to cope with the unique environmental conditions of these regions long before the arrival of the Europeans.

The Artic region is characterised by extreme cold in winter, and large bodies of water covered by ice. To survive, it became imperative for the Inuit people who inhabited these lands to develop effective ways to stay warm. The igloo, a bee hive like structure built from blocks of compacted snow was the ingenious solution to this problem.

To construct an igloo, the builder would locate an area with good quality compacted snow and mark a circle that was the intended size of the structure. Next, the builder would cut out blocks of snow within the perimeter and lay them in a circle, repeating upwards until it formed a spiral. The layers of blocks are beveled and inclined inwards to achieve a dome shape at the top. The gradual sloping shape of an igloo forms a catenary arch, which distributes stress evenly throughout the structure. The igloo owes its strength to this property. Loose snow is packed into the open crevices between the blocks prevents wind chills from entering the snow house. A tunnel constructed at the entrance, which adds structural strength to the igloo, serves as wind breaker. Within the igloo, sleeping platforms are raised from compacted ice and covered with fur for more comfort.

The Igloo is able to retain heat, and remain remarkably warmer than the outer surroundings due to the insulating properties of the snow. Trapped air within the snow acts as a very poor conductor, therefore preventing heat from transferring between the inside of the igloo and the outer environment. Furthermore, heat emanating from the body is retained within the Igloo. Heated air, which expands and flows upwards, adds warmth around the raised sleeping platforms, while the cold air remains close to the floor.

Indeed, the Igloo is an ingenious winter shelter, and an attestation to the architectural, civil engineering and scientific knowledge the Inuit inhabitants of the Arctic possessed long before the arrival of Europeans in North America.


Holihan, R., Keeley, D., Lee, D., Tu, P., & Yang, E. (2003). How Warm is an Igloo? 1-28. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from;jsessionid=26FAB5338BA77F4E500073C44DCF165E?sequence=2

Igloo. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from

Mills, E., & Kalman, H. (2007, September 30). Architectural History of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from

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