Architecture in Alaska: Unique climate and remote communities prompt state to innovate.

Author:Choquette, Joy

There is a nationwide trend toward sustainable and eco-friendly design and Alaska is helping lead the charge with energy efficient, sustainable architecture.

Alaskan architects have taken that national trend and added aspects unique to the state's needs such as durability and cost containment measures to create a design that is all-Alaskan.

James Dougherty, managing principal at RIM Architects (headquartered in Anchorage), states that 2018's November earthquake served as both a reminder and impetus for exceedingly sturdy architecture. Resiliency, says Dougherty, is one of the strongest areas of growth in architecture. He expects this area will continue to grow in the next few years.

"After an earthquake, there is a huge cost in inspecting, repairing, and reoccupying office space, for example," says Dougherty, who notes that both the cost to a business and the waste a disaster creates are incredible.

In Southcentral, for example, there is a great deal of seismic activity and high winds. This requires resilient design, says Dougherty. "It's expensive to build because of the cost of materials getting to Alaska," he notes. "But it's also expensive to build because the buildings have to be extra tough."

When more resilient methods of design are used, Dougherty believes there is less impact on individuals, businesses, and communities in the wake of natural disasters. He notes that Anchorage, which has more robust infrastructure in place due to more rigorous codes, regulations, and permits than other Alaska locations, also saw much less long-term loss following the 2018 earthquake.

Saving Money with Sustainable Architecture

"Most people, when they think about architecture, are thinking about pretty buildings," says Dougherty. "But Alaskans are really thinking about energy efficiency." Dougherty points out that more people are interested in spending a little more upfront and then reaping the financial reward throughout the life of the building or project.

Luanne Urfer, principal at Sustainable Design Group, a landscape architecture firm, sees a similar interest in sustainable architecture due to the cost savings it provides.

Urfer, who spends a lot of time with clients who need stormwater solutions among other design work, states that even if more sustainable design and materials do not seem cost-effective during the construction process, they often lead to much greater savings in the long run. Urfer notes that environmental products used in...

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