Thule Air Base, Greenland, is located 940 miles from the North Pole, within the Arctic Circle. The base experiences extreme climatic conditions, including minus-60-degree arctic temperatures and 150-mile-per hour winds (a wind speed of 207 miles per hour has been recorded at Thule).
This 40,000-square-foot project was the second dormitory designed using the new "4+4" module design standard, but it was the first designed for construction in arctic conditions. During a charrette process held with Air Force staff, it was discovered that the Air Force design standard did not consider specialized arctic requirements, such as the need for thicker walls, enclosure of stairs and corridors, and vestibules. These elements increased the gross square footage beyond that allowed by the standard.
Michael Baker assisted in justifying these modifications to the design standard to allow construction of a building appropriate to this unique environment. Also, a Senior NCO module had not been developed or included in the 4+4 design standard. Because there is a Senior NCO assigned to Thule, Michael Baker developed a new unit design for the module. The building was designed to withstand brutal climatic conditions. Unlike most new dormitories, the building is elevated above the permafrost. All HVAC and plumbing systems were consolidated and distributed from the second floor; no utilities were located in the crawl space below the building or in the attic above to reduce the risk of pipes freezing in the attic or crawl space. The 30-space parking area features engine block heaters for military automobiles. Rather than landscaping typical to the continental United States, arctic xeriscaping, consisting of rock landscaping, is utilized and is appropriate to the climate and wind conditions.
Much of the existing building stock at Thule Air Base lacks distinction, presenting a character of unadorned, rectangular metal boxes. To introduce a sense of identity at the base, the new dormitory is designed in a modern Danish vocabulary, complementing the native vernacular of Greenland. This aesthetic includes the use of bold primary colors to make buildings stand apart from the white or gray environment. Amenities include a large day room with kitchen facilities, a third-floor multi-purpose recreational area, and an outdoor barbeque/seating area for the few summer months.