Better Farm Builds an Igloo!

Better Farm's Igloo. Photo/Zoya Kaufmann
By Zoya Kaufmann
An igloo (from the Inuktitut iglu ᐃᒡᓗ [iɣ.'lu], "house") [1] is a temporary winter shelter built by Inuit peoples from the Mackenzie Delta in Canada's Northwest Territories [2] to northwestern Greenland.

Inuit means "the people". Inuktitut words for English speakers and French Canadians are Qallunaat (from qallu, "eyebrow"), and Uiuinaat or Guiguinaat (from the French oui), respectively. [1]

To build an Inuit igloo, blocks of compacted snow measuring approximately 24" by 48" by 8" are cut with a snowknife, traditionally made of bone[2] (see image below!).

Fun fact: The sharpest cutlery used by Inuits living in northwestern Greenland is made of iron -- space iron. Meteorite masses known as Ahnighito ("the Tent" (31 tons), "the Woman" (2½ tons), and "the Dog" (½ ton) (as well as several others rediscovered later) provided Inuit populations with metal, long before Robert Perry extracted the meteorite's location in 1894 from a local in exchange for a gun. Greenland's first railway was built to aid in transporting the meteorite family to New York, where the American Museum of National History purchased them for $40,000[4]. The meteorite masses are currently on public display. Ahnighito is held in place by supports extending down to the bedrock of the museum[5].

The first row of igloo blocks is then sloped, so that the following rows can be added in spirally. The arc of an igloo is more akin in shape to a catenoid (think of the parabola created by holding both ends of a chain, like the St. Louis Arch) than a hemisphere, reducing the structure's tendency to cave or bulge[6].

Better Farm's igloo (photo by Zoya Kaufmann)

Over the course of several days, the team at Better Farm constructed their own version of the igloo (thanks to Adam McBath for the idea!), right behind the farm's more permanent housing structure. A comparison between the Inuit and the Better Farm igloo follows:
Igloo construction tools:
Inuit snowknife


Better Farm's cooking pan (with Greg Baz, left), snow shovel, and gloved hands (with Zoya Kaufmann, right)


Inuit: One 10 ft. passageway, covered from the inside by a sealskin flap

Better Farm: Two 2 ft. passageways, sometimes covered by the legs of igloo inhabitants and guarded by dogs


Inuit: Opening at the apex

Better Farm: Accidental skylight facing north


Inuit: Seal blubber

Better Farm: Flashlight


Inuit: Willow twigs covered by caribou furs

Better Farm: Bare snow, sometimes covered by Hans Solo


Inuit: One family

Better Farm: Seven humans and one dog

Inside the 'gloo - Zoya Kaufmann, Aaron Youngs, Nicole Caldwell, and Greg Baz (photo by Adam McBath)

[1] Asuilaak. (n.d.). (Nortext, Producer) Retrieved January 6, 2013, from Inuktitut Living Dictionary:
[2] igloo. (2013). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from
[3] Pastore, R. T. (1998). The Thule. (Memorial University of Newfoundland) Retrieved from Aboriginal Peoples:
[4]Cape York Meteorite. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Encyclopedia of Science: ://
[5] Hall of Meteorites. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Museum of Natural History:
[6] Handy, Richard L. . The Igloo and the Natural Bridge as Ultimate Structures. Arctic , Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec., 1973), pp. 276-281. Published by: Arctic Institute of North America. Article Stable URL: