I recently got to go on a “Green Building Tour” of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and learned a little bit about the history of the CNSC and the construction of the current building.
Being uniquely located near both boreal forest and Arctic tundra habitats, Churchill attracts a large number of researchers, particularly in the summer. In 1976 a group of local stakeholders decided there was a need for researchers to have their own space in Churchill (apparently, the hotels in town were becoming frustrated with soil samples in bathtubs and animals in the rooms). Thus began the CNSC.
The first location for the CNSC was on a marsh, closer to town. When the Rocket Range closed in the 1980’s, the CNSC moved from the marsh to the building that the rocket researchers used to live in. That building is still there, right beside the current CNSC, and used for researchers, maintenance, and storage.
The third and current home of the CNSC, where I’m staying, was designed in 2008 and built in 2011. Here’s the front of the building:
Here’s the old rocket building, beside it (it lives to the left of the CNSC):
The new building was designed with the environment strongly in mind. It includes lots of small touches and design features, such as composting toilets and quick shut off taps for sinks and showers. There’s also a light switch for each row of lights, shared rooms, and big windows – a reduction of light pollution that’s good for the environment and for aurora photography! To further help preserve the dark sky, all major lights in the building get turned off past 7pm. You can still turn on your room light (there are excellent window blinds) and the hallways and stairwells are lit with small red lights, but other than that, the building is completely dark. It’s rather bizarre the first couple days, everyone walking around and feeling their way through the darkness, but you get used to it. The CNSC is 23km out of town, and it’s very dark out here, so you really notice when any little bit of light escapes. It’s also made me a lot more aware of how strong light pollution is, and how much it can diminish the night sky.
One of my aurora photos taken at the CNSC – that glow in the bottom left corner is the town of Churchill. It’s crazy how much light pollution is created by a town of just 800 people; you can see how this light takes away from the stars all around it. From town, everything is harder to see as well – I saw the aurora from town one night, and it was still visible, but looked very hazy.
Some other cool features of the building:
The sides of the building are built at a slant, to allow for shade in the summer when it does get hot (only three rooms in the building have air conditioning). Both the front and back of the building are slanted:
The building is also raised about three feet off the ground so that snow can blow under. In the old building, snowdrifts would blow up against the walls, and eventually would build so high that they’d end up with things like polar bears on the roof.
This dark blue panel, on the side of the building, uses solar energy to help heat the building. It also shows off the CNSC’s logo, the “birdfish”, which is supposed to symbolize the CNSC’s study of marine life, life on land, and life up in the air (birds).
One of the CNSC’s latest projects is the Rocket Green grower, located in a unit beside the building: