New buildings in Greenland are often full of mistakes

House building in Nuuk, Arctic Hub, Greenland research

Tove Lading, who researches Arctic construction, argues that construction errors make houses less sustainable. As it can be hard to point out mistakes of other people in a small society like Greenland, it can be difficult to learn from and avoid the mistakes in the future.


By Signe Ravn-Højgaard


The Nuuk skyline is characterized by tall cranes, as new houses are being constructed everywhere. It is expensive to construct buildings. But it becomes much more expensive if errors are made – not least in Greenland, where the buildings are exposed to hard Arctic weather that magnify mistakes.

However, only very little research exists in the best way to construct buildings in Arctic conditions. That is why Tove Lading, associate professor at the Technical University of Denmark, together with her colleagues from Danish and Norwegian universities do research in Arctic construction.

“Initially, we though that the quest was to determine the type of construction that would work the best in Arctic conditions. However, this is not where the problem is, as most types of construction work in Arctic conditions, if constructed correctly – that is without errors. Instead, the errors are the problem”, Tove Lading says.

Buildings in Nuuk in wintertime, Arctic Hub, Greenland research

Many new buildings are appearing around Nuuk. As construction technologies often change fast, the developers do not always have time to evaluate and learn from the problems that appear with each technique.

She explains that errors can happen both because of difficulties in attracting skilled labour or the right building materials. This can result in termal bridges and draft in the buildings, increasing the heating bill or resulting in a humid indoor climate.


“New construction types are introduced so fast that we don’t manage to find out what the possible problems are with a construction type, before a new one is introduced. This means that experiences are not collected, mistakes not eliminated and lessons not learnt,” says Tove Lading and continues:


“I think it would be good with a systematic collection of experiences in the construction sector as mistakes have such a large impact”.


No evaluation

There is no tradition of professional evaluation of construction projects in Greenland. That is a problem as knowledge is lost, knowledge that could have improved construction, minimize mistakes and saved money.

The reasons for this might be that in a small society we try to avoid conflicts. When there are few actors and everyone knows everyone, people tend to refrain from being too critical, Tove Lading believes.


“As researchers, we have to be careful, if we say something critical, e.g. about construction projects. The critique can quickly be considered very personal.” Tove Lading


Project owners and building consultants inspect construction projects by visiting the construction site to control that the work goes on as planned. Inspection is especially difficult outside the big towns, Tove Lading points out.


You cannot just show up unannounced on a construction site in a town far away from the main office. So, when the project owner or his consultants finally do come, it will be known, as everyone knows when the plane arrives.


These are some of the reasons that Tove Lading find it important that independent researchers like herself, contribute with knowledge that can improve construction and minimize mistakes.