Nature on the drawing board

Greenland's bigger towns are providing examples of how a unique Greenlandic architecture is beginning to take shape. It's no longer enough that a house is functional, innovative and striking, based on the Nordic tradition, yet still unique. Modern-day Greenlanders have - just like their ancestors - a special relationship with nature, and this is finding its way onto architects' drawing boards.

Grandstand view of the northern lights

This is expressed most clearly in Qinngorput, which is a suburb of Nuuk. The apartments here are large and light, the kitchen and living room are combined into a single room, the windows stretch from the floor to the ceiling and the balconies provide a grandstand view of the northern lights dancing across the winter sky. Out towards Nuuk Fjord lies the residential area of Iiminaq, which is characterised by large wooden houses in every shade of colour with lawns and flowerbeds. The huge living room windows provide a view of Nuuk's landmark, Sermitsiaq.
In Nuuk, Greenland's "twin towers" on Jagtvej rise up above the town centre and are home to some of the capital's most desirable real estate.

Towns in all the colours of the rainbow

The old Inuit dwellings were simple and easy to construct as the weather and seasons changed. For 4,000 years the Inuit lived in turf huts, tents and occasionally in igloos. Building materials comprised driftwood, bones and furs from animals that had been hunted or captured. Hans Egede's arrival in Greenland in 1721 marked the new colonial style whereby wooden houses were sent up from Scandinavia as timber kits. The colourful tradition of the characteristic, brightly coloured houses began here. The colours were practical and indicated the function of the building: Commercial houses were red; hospitals were yellow; police stations were black; the telephone company was green and fish factories were blue.

Combining old and new styles

During the decades following the Second World War, standard houses and blocks of flats dominated the urban landscape due to the need to house a lot of citizens where space was limited. The establishment of Home Rule in 1979 signalled a shift towards architecture which linked old and new expressions. Big towns such as Sisimiut, Qaqortoq and the new Nuuk suburb, Nuussuaq, saw a return to the colourful wooden houses typical of the colonial period and spacious, light dwellings were erected standing two-three storeys high. A wide range of colours were used, and purple, pink and orange also appeared in the urban landscape.


The University of Greenland and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources have broken away from the box-like structures, whilst the use of natural materials enables the campus to blend into the surrounding landscape. The houses of culture, Taseralik in Sisimiut and Katuaq in Nuuk, stand out as characteristic originals. The flickering of the northern lights can be seen in Katuaq's architecture, which has been decorated by a number of the country's leading artists.

Many people regard Nuuk's swimming baths, Malik, as the most beautiful of its kind in the Nordic countries. The wave-shaped roof is based on the building's Greenlandic name - Malik means wave. From the pool, swimmers have a matchless view of the fjord and fells that stretch out just behind the enormous panoramic windows.

The international architectural elite also have an eye on the north. The Swiss star architect Peter Zumthor is responsible for the plans for the upcoming visitors' centre at Ilulissat Icefjord, and in Nuuk Danish Bjarke Ingels Group has won the procurement to design the country's new national gallery.

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