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The main source of information in the study of local arctic design technologies and practices is ethnographic explorations – expeditions involving involved observation, «design probing», and co-participation/co-creativity with the user. Discovering various localities and contexts in the Russian, mainly northern, peripheries, researchers gather first-hand experiences suggesting that each region and each walk of life in extreme environments are autonomous, breaking free of averaged standards and design criteria. The designer faces the need to take a different approach – targeted, with deep immersion in the local context and detailed account for the specifics of a particular locality. For designers, an expedition is an opportunity to test in the field the results obtained from previous explorations and make improvements in the design or develop scenario models.

July 2017

Field lab «The Spirit of the Arctic» (principal organization: MOEO «Green Arctic»).

March 2018

Pozhva is a workers settlement established in the mid-18th century at Stroganovs’ iron-making mill on the river Kama in Perm region.

June 2018

The village Tatarsky Saiman in Ulyanovsk region became widely known owing to a series of publications in popular automotive periodicals («Za Rulem») and news reports in central TV channels.

August 2018

Moseyevo is a remote village in Arkhangelsk region on the river Pyoze (river Mezen’s tributary), isolated from the outside world.

July 2019

The village of Pozhva, well-known for its DIY off-road vehicles, as visited to hold a field exercise in practical joint design of an individual off-road vehicle.

August 2019

All who the team dealt with were enthusiastic individuals whose experiences were not popular knowledge to take advantage of.

Academic projects

The academic part presents student works performed within the framework of term and degree design assignments at the Department of Industrial Design at USUAA. The range of design themes covers transport vehicles, housing, and equipment. The uniting objective of the educational program «Design for Extreme Environments» is design forecasting of a New Culture of the North. This is a Master’s degree program in industrial design developing knowledge, abilities and skills to resolve problems associated with human life in the Russian North. The principal directions of design research are differentiated by duration of stay in the extreme climatic and natural conditions:

1)  a single trip to the North: development of infrastructure for all kinds of tourism, including promising/predicted ones («ethnotourism», «ecotourism», «adventure tourism», etc.) with reference to the Urals and Siberia;

2)  rotational shift-work visits or short-term stay in the North: ensuring comfortable conditions of work and short-term stay in the field for the workers of the oil and gas companies in Western Siberia;

3)  permanent residence in the North: development of conceptual proposals for mobile and stationary dwellings on permafrost.

An important feature of all projects devoted to human life and work in the extreme environment of the Arctic North is their basic versatility and adaptability of forms, structure and principles of spatial design to any type of extreme living. The basis of the design solutions is comprehensive development of the physical and spatial environment (transport, housing, clothing) as a single life support module.

This selection presents works by the first students who participated in the touristic trips and plein-air outings in the Northern, Polar and Subpolar Urals, Yamal, Gydan and other places. They marked the beginning of Northern Design studies, first in the format of ethnographic/ecological design studio at the Department of Industrial Design, Sverdlovsk Architectural Institute, and then as a «Studio of Extreme Design». The themes of the first projects were chosen extremely carefully despite the fact that choice was based very familiar material. The theme that was felt to be most important for the northern regions was cross-country transport vehicles, and that perception was based on the half a century long experience of industrial development of the North (where there were no roads at all and the conditions were extreme). The students who had travelled in the North felt confident in this area of design; that is why many of the design projects addressed the problem of transport vehicle design. Next in importance was the theme of special equipment and outfit: modular equipment, clothing, and equipment for expeditions, tourists, geologists, oil industry workers, militaries, etc. Equally important was the theme of shelters: both collective and individual, stationary and mobile, winterized and interseasonal, etc.

This selection of master’s degree projects from the School of Northern Design presents solutions to the problem of socio-cultural adaptation to the extreme northern conditions during a short stay, in particular, promising options of tourism (ethnotourism, ecotourism, extreme tourism, etc.) in the Urals and Siberia. The main objective of this line of research is to formulate principles of eco-friendly and ethical consumption of tourism products.

In practical terms, the frontier guard duty in the Arctic has always been hard to endure since the life support systems for it are a result of unsystematic spontaneous efforts to modify existing equipment employed in various other sectors and intended for other purposes. So there is a persisting problem of adapting man and technology to military service in extreme natural conditions. In the self-initiated projects of the Design Studio for Extreme Environments (an educational unit in the School of Northern Design), the defense sector is one of areas for applying the research and design expertise not only because it is an area in which advanced technologies are concentrated but also because the challenge of developing life-support systems for the militaries in the Arctic presents an ideal sphere for creative experimenting and development of various scenarios for this region, which could be then adapted to civilian needs.

This tourist kit is developed for the Polar Urals for routes designed for a broad range of consumers who do not have special skills or training in sports.

«Yagel» (meaning ‘reindeer moss’ in the Russian and some Ugro-Finnish languages) is a light-weight two-axle snow- and marshland-going vehicle on low-pressure tires.

Conceptual sketching

A review of the empirical material highlighted the need to focus on the transport vehicle sector for two reasons: (1) the paramount importance of the theme of mobility in an extreme environment with poorly developed infrastructure and long distances from economic centers; (2) opportunities for testing design methods  developed on «live» material from the regions under study, with subsequent possible application in housing and equipment design. The basic set of essential characteristics that an ideal transport vehicle should have for the northern conditions includes: autonomy (minimal requirements as to available infrastructure), maneuverability, eco-friendliness (low pressure on soil), economic efficiency, maintainability, and customizability.

This section presents conceptual sketching proposals, «rough» ideas, for light-weight small-size off-road vehicles grouped by geography (segmentation of the potential market): «Perelomka» (Articulates) is suited for hilly terrains  (Chukotka, Kamchatka, some areas in Yakutia);  «Arfa»  (Harp), for the Polar Urals and northern areas of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug; «Zubr»  (Bison), for flat areas in Russia’s midlands; «Karakat» with minor modifications of the wheels could find applications, for areas with varying terrain.

The basis of the design is the 1983 invention of a light-weight snowmobile by Vyacheslav Laukhin, a DIY tinker from Tula.

«ZUBR» (the Russian word for ‘bison’) is an articulated-body off-roader with a short wheel-base.

«Karakat» is a four-wheel motorized all-terrain vehicle (ATV), a modification of a DIY vehicle from the village of Pozhva.

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