Architecture &
Design Research

Cooperative Arctic Hedge Fund

Kirkenes, Norway
Proposed for: Oslo Architecture Triennale, After Belonging

This research investigates the unique multiplicity of identities in the far north, where cities within the Arctic region share more in common with each other than others in their own nations. This project, which received an Honorable Mention in the open call for OAT After Belonging, proposes the creation of a new constituency of investors in the Arctic region, who act cooperatively to re-claim agency on a transnational playing board of large corporations and remote political maneuvers.

In 1999, almost a decade before An Inconvenient Truth, John Dickerson—a former CIA analyst—bet big on climate change. Dickerson accepted early-on the coming draught in the American West and established Summit Global Management, the first water-based hedge fund. The fund bought both water rights and invested in “hydrocommerce” technology. When in the coming years water became scarce, Dickerson and his clients comparatively saw a “flood of money.” Soon, big banks—whose eyes, as ever, were on the bottom line—looked to capitalize on and prepare for the the ecological catastrophes of the anthropocene: Goldman Sachs issued a report calling water the “petroleum of the next century.” Others continue looking to profit from climate change for their own agendas: Greenland secessionists are betting on increased profits from the thawing tundra to finance their independence from Denmark. Emergent businesses tap into this same game of futures: “geoengineering patent trolls, private firefighting” and more.

This proposal for the Oslo Architecture Triennale, Cooperative Arctic Hedge Fund, proposes to create a new constituency of investors in the far north. We argue that the “architecture” of the arctic is not wood and steel buildings, but rather the spatial territories of EEZs, drilling rights, logistics expertise, and the power of capital. This project proposes the establishment of the first-ever democratically-run investment group focusing on the Arctic: both rendering visible transnational exchanges and offering fiscal agency to local populations working at the fringe of global power plays in their own backyard.

The Arctic, as it stands now, is a site of multiplicitous identities: overlapping national boundaries, shifting populations, changing geographies, and flowing resources. Yet despite the lack of traditional identifiers, the cities in the arctic circle share more in common with each other than they do with cities in their own countries. Nonetheless, despite their geographic proximity, these local populations often find themselves as the backdrop of a neoliberal chess board, with far-remote governments and corporations as the players.

This proposal asks: What if arctic populations collected their “insider” knowledge on the far north to hedge against corporate and state powers acting in the region? How can the seaman, miner, and local hotelier reclaim agency against outsized movements of capital and make claim to the Arctic—through legal fiscal piracy—against the ticking clock of the melting ice?

Kirkenes, situated 400 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, is Norway’s door to the Arctic. The small town of less than 4,000 inhabitants has a history of serving as the stopping point for resources heading to larger cities further south. The Sydvaranger Iron Ore Mine was first developed in the early 1900s and today is exporting 9.8 million metric tons of ore per year from the port at Kirkenes. An additional 3.2 million metric tons per year of other goods flow through the port on over 400 ships, including Arctic Char and other fish.

The newest resource boom in the Arctic, oil, is also beginning to flow through Kirkenes. Norterminal, currently a floating transfer station, is soon to be a working oil terminal near Kirkenes Airport that will handle 20 million tons of oil each each year. As more exploration and exploitation of arctic resources come online the flows of resources through Kirkenes will only grow.

All of these Norwegian enterprises operate in conjunction with Russian business that is across the border just a few kilometers away. The economies of the two countries are so entwined at this location that a visa-free border zone spans thirty kilometers in either direction. The street signs on both sides of the border are in Norwegian and Russian, the geopolitics of the EU and Russia are tempered, and business is booming. Residents of Kirkenes embrace a belonging to the arctic, and its resources, that outweighs the national allegiances demarcated by obelisks running through the landscape.

But what does all this booming business look like down the road? How are the dockworkers, fishermen, and miners represented by the commodities markets on which the products of their labor are sold? As larger companies, like Shell, Statoil, and Lukoil, grow their presence, how will those from Kirkenes claim their stake in the global Arctic?

Today, a term on the tip of the tongue is the “multinational corporation.” Citizens are concerned: Are these entities paying the proper taxes? Making the earnings their shareholders demand? Treating the environment with respect? These loosely regulated organizations operate outside of national boundaries, ferrying clients and management who need no passport. Cooperative Arctic Hedge Fund proposes that the far north constituents turn to piracy: appropriating the neoliberal strategies of the multinational corporation to stake their own claims. The new hedge fund to be established for the Oslo Architecture Triennale will not just serve as a method for amassing wealth. By linking the fund’s management to democratic voting procedures, the Cooperative Arctic Hedge Fund will use collective capital to give regional constituents a voice—and, ideally a profit—in the racketeering of the far north.

The online platform for Cooperative Arctic Hedge Fund is more than the generic landing page for a traditional investor. Reflecting the heterotopic qualities of the Arctic, the Internet-based hub for our new constituency of investors is a union hall, neighborhood bar, boardroom, library, voting booth, archive, bank, and territorial report card. It operates on multiple scales.    

On the territorial scale, the online platform reflects the geography of the arctic, cataloging and rendering visible flows and exchanges of capital. It is a “report card” for its economic value and potential on any given day, translating the hedge fund’s portfolio into visual data accessible and legible to a broader public.

On the local scale, the digital platform offers the Arctic constituency a place to share thoughts and offer opinions on the future. This sort of transnational cooperation and community is already visible at Kirkenes: whereas Norway and Russia’s governments may butt heads at the state level, fending off and creating alliances with others on the Arctic Council, regional citizens instead pay allegiance to the shifting price of oil and the coming week’s weather forecast. This online platform creates a unique, protected site for these communications. On the individual scale, the platform reflects any vested capital in the hedge fund, showing daily profits and losses and also facilitating votes on the fund’s upcoming directions. Developed through blockchain technology, this online platform will create unfalsifiable transactions in which the Arctic community can oust the traditional “hedge fund manager” and apply local expertise to trading opportunities on the global market.