When Dutch artist Rob Sweere visited Greenland for an art project, there weren’t many hotels to choose from. After traveling hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle to a tiny town where sled dogs outnumber people four to one, he ended up staying at a local shelter that houses abused and neglected kids. Months later, he went back in the village to build something for the kids: a mobile house on a sled that they could use for overnight excursions.
The children at the shelter come from the indigenous Inuit culture, and used to travel to a nearby island to spend time with Inuit hunters. But the old house where they used to stay can no longer be used–it was built on permafrost, which is disappearing because of climate change.
Enter the house built on a sled. The sled itself uses a traditional design, built by locals, that’s safe enough to travel over sea ice, pulled by sled dogs. Inside, things are cozy: There’s just enough room for six people to sleep (close together, since that’s a good way to keep warm in one of the coldest countries on Earth), and though there’s no power source for heat, the house is insulated and warms up quickly.
“Because of the dry climate, you can light a few candles and the sledge is warm and comfortable,” Sweere says.
The house also lacks electricity or running water, though Sweere explains that everyone actually gets water from local icebergs. “You go to the iceberg with a boat–quite scary, since they’re the size of big buildings and can flip over and kill you–chip off a big piece, put it in a large bucket and wait until the water is melted. This water is about 3,000 years old and has the best taste on Earth.”
Though it might sound like rough living, the kids love it, and the shelter lets them live out on the ice, along with an Inuit hunter, for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Sweere built his first mobile sled-homes along with a Danish man who was working at the children’s shelter (who Sweere describes as “a very big strong Viking”) and a local hunter who couldn’t speak English. “We couldn’t understand each other, but because we are both builders we could easily work with hand signs and pointing fingers,” Sweere says.
The building process wasn’t easy–the island had no electricity or supplies, and everything had to be brought in by boat. If they ran out of something, it meant traveling for hours to another island. But after a couple of weeks of work during longer summer days, the first two houses were complete. Now Sweere is hoping to finding funding to build a third, along with a larger, permanent building.