2021 Mary Kolb Berglund & 2021 McDermott Traveling Fellowships


For as long as she can remember, Belen has been an advocate for the environment. Before architecture, her passion was exploring the great outdoors. As an experienced hiker and having visited countless National and State Parks throughout the United States, Belen developed a deep appreciation for the natural environment. Her interest regarding the ways in which the natural and built environments can coexist developed during her architectural education at the University of Texas at Arlington.

During her graduate studies at UTA’s College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs, Belen enrolled in a studio directed by Amanda Aman which focused on the effects of climate change in Greenland and the ways in which architecture could be used as a response. It was this studio, combined with her enthusiasm for nature, that sparked the curiosity to continue to study Greenland’s unique geography, culture, and built environment in relation to the changing climate.

Today, Belen is a Design Professional with a focus in healthcare architecture. She lives in Denver where the mountains are but a short drive away.



On the topic of relocation, the tour made a stop by Qoornoq, an abandoned settlement some miles away from Nuuk. Qoornoq used to be a self-sustaining village with a population of about 80 people until the Danish government relocated its inhabitants to Nuuk. The move was a strategic one, the Danish preferred fishermen work in commercial fisheries. The colonization scarred countless residents. People were forced to move out of their colored wooden homes and into massive apartment blocks. This was a design issue because the dense apartment blocks were not designed to accommodate the Inuit lifestyle: that of a hunter with big coats and boots and game to dry outside. It became a bloody mess. The houses were then sold as vacation homes to those who were able to afford them. Our boat captain told us of a story where one family worked and worked until they could buy their house back. He knew Qoornoq’s rich history by heart because he was just a kid himself when he and his family were forced to move to Nuuk. He shared with us that his mother took her own life while in Nuuk when he was still a child because she was not able to cope and adjust to a different lifestyle. The tragedy lies not only in this story, but in the fact that there were so many others like it. Our captain then offered us a glimpse of hope: that not all was lost, that, like him, there were others who were able to adapt and make something out of the events. After a few hours of contemplating and observing the landscape, we stopped the boat to have lunch in a spot where we could see the edge of the ice cap. Though it was far, it was an incredible sight to see.

Nuuk visibly embodies the many layers of Greenland’s adaptations to the effects of climate change. Fishing has become even more prevalent since the warming waters attract more types of fish. Longer summers attract more tourists year-round. This does not mean, however, that the residents of Nuuk are not conscious of the downsides of climate change such as the rising sea level and an increasing number of natural disasters.

Most recently, Nuuk was named the first Sustainable Capital of the world by EarthCheck! To attain this certification, the city had to meet rigorous environmental standards including energy efficiency, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem conservation, transportation, waste management, and cultural and social management. The documentation process took over two years! This certification is valuable because it is evidence that the tourism industry continues to care for nature just as their ancestors have for thousands of years. From my observations, Nuuk proved to be the ultimate representation of a modern-day Greenland.


Known for its iceberg-covered landscape, Ilulissat is one of the most touristic settlements in all of Greenland. It is also widely regarded as ground zero for visible ice melt. The fishing village has an estimated population of 5,000 residents and sits over 200 miles north of the Arctic circle. The highlights of my visit to Ilulissat included a hike along a UNESCO World Heritage site, a visit to the newly built Ilulissat Icefjord Center, and a boat tour with a destination to Eqip Sermia, the world’s fastest calving glacier.

On my first full day in Ilulissat, I set out to hike the scenic Blue Route Hike with a local guide, Pilu, whom I also met through Instagram prior to traveling to Greenland. The 4-mile hike is located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along the shore of the Ilulissat Icefjord. Because it had snowed overnight, the trail was covered in snow and the markers were tough to see. Fortunately, I had great company who knew the way. Through conversations with Pilu, I gained a new perspective on the youth of Greenland. At 21 years old, she was taking courses to become a boat captain in Ilulissat. Something I thought was remarkable was that youth in Greenland learn three languages in school, Greenlandic, Danish, and English. As we began the hike, having walked from the city center, we walked by several dog colonies. The iceberg mecca city is known for its dog population, at one point, it was said that there were more dogs than people in the settlement! Today, due to the ice extent retreating inland, hunters are no longer able to rely on hunting by dog sled as they were in the past. The declining dog population was yet another visible effect of warming temperatures. Dogs whose primary job was to set out on a hunting journey are instead setting out to give tourists the ride of their lives. This reality is an adaptation to the changing times and a necessary shift in order to support livelihoods.

As we continued the rigorous hike, and after many slips due to the icy conditions, they suddenly appeared: majestic, shape-shifting icebergs. It was a sight unlike any other. We sat on a wooden bench where Pilu shared how the icebergs used to be even bigger in previous years. She recalled her elders telling her the same from their younger years. During the rest of the hike, I learned that the Ilulissat Icefjord was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 and is one of three designated sites in the country. This area is home to the remains of a settlement called Sermermiut, which translates to the “glacier people”. As we got closer to the end, we saw warning signs communicating the dangers of approaching the beach area due to possible tsunami waves caused by calving icebergs. It was unbelievable to walk through a landscape I perceived as harsh only to realize that thousands of years ago, people not only lived in the area, but thrived. The last stretch of the hike was on wooden slats that sat lightly on the ground. The wooden walkway led us directly to the Dorte Mandrup designed Ilulissat Icefjord Center. Opened in Summer 2021, the Center is the first of 6 planned visitor centers throughout Greenland.

The Dorte Mandrup designed Ilulissat Icefjord Center serves to preserve the rich Inuit culture through exhibits in addition to telling the “Story of Ice” – the life cycle of ice. Upon entering the center, the visitor arrives in a room where shoes are to be left. This gesture is a nod to the Inuit practice of removing one’s boots when entering a home. I had never been in a public place in my socks, it added a sense of belonging to the experience. The architectural expression is that of a light structure on the landscape. Much like the minimal footprint the ancestral Inuit left on the landscape, at roughly 16,000 square feet, the center sits lightly on the ground supported by steel piers. The structure consists of steel of which 80% is recycled. The roof, ceilings, and floors are built of European oak. The interior is of lighter wood panels or slats. The glazed façade allows for open views into the fjord. Part of the challenge was that all imported building materials had to fit inside a container module for shipping. Because the construction window in the unforgiving Arctic climate is short, local knowledge was heavily relied upon to bring the building to life. Teams of developers, contractors, architects, engineers, and builders had to work quickly and precisely to avoid construction delays. The center is quoted to be a gateway between fjord and city, nature, and civilization.

Similar to my itinerary in Nuuk, my last day in Ilulissat was spent on the water. I embarked on a 10-hour boat tour to Eqip Sermia aboard a Disko Line Explorer tour. The glacier is located more than 40 miles north of Ilulissat. As we sailed through icy waters, the captivating landscape made you feel small. As freezing cold as it was, I spent as much time as possible outside of the cabin admiring the different iceberg shapes and mountains in the distance. At one point, our Captain pointed off into the distance at what used to be an old dog sledge route. He mentioned that it was no longer used because the water no longer froze enough to safely travel across it.

After he shared that story, I began to see the landscape differently. Where I once saw uninhabitable land, I then saw opportunity. Seeing this opportunity of life in the landscape is what attributed to the Inuits’ survival through millennia. As the hours went by, time was felt by the sun’s position in the sky and the different colors the icebergs reflected at different times of the day. After seeing a seal jump into the water, we took a detour because our captain sensed there were whales nearby. Without a doubt, we found ourselves standing in awe as we watched two humpback whales play in the distance. The spectacle of nature continued to amaze. When we arrived as close as we could to the glacier, I stood in silence with 14 other passengers watching the glacier calve. That late September day, we saw, heard, and felt Eqip Sermia. The 3-mile-wide glacier is estimated to be a dead glacier within the next 50 years.

At the epicenter of the tangible effects of climate change, Ilulissat has assumed responsibility in educating its citizens, tourists, and political leaders alike through the construction of the Ilulissat Icefjord Center. Ilulissat is at a crossroads where sustainability not only means taking care of the planet and its inhabitants, but it also means preserving a thousand-year old culture through modernized storytelling while inviting an influx of worldwide visitors. The center is believed to attract an unprecedented number of tourists to the area in the years to come.


Upon my arrival back to Copenhagen, I recall feeling overwhelmed by all the activity. The constant sounds of urban life, people walking by, crowded restaurants, and busy streets were overstimulating after spending time in remote cities surrounded by endless landscapes. Having grown up in the DFW Metroplex, this reaction came as a bit of a surprise! Nevertheless, I was excited to explore Copenhagen for the next few days. The itinerary for Copenhagen was light in comparison to Nuuk and Ilulissat due to having to test for COVID prior to boarding a plane back to the United States.

In addition to getting a feel for Copenhagen by walking the cobblestone streets of the city, my schedule consisted of visiting the National Museum of Denmark, the Danish Architecture Foundation (DAC), BIG’s Copenhill, and walking along the postcard-like Nyhavn where the purpose of these vibrant buildings has changed through the years. As I became familiar with the city, I observed green roofs, people reaching their destinations by foot or bike, as well as an active public transit system consisting of buses and trains.

During one of my city walks, I stumbled upon an installation that caught my attention. On Gammel Strand, a public area and one of the oldest streets, stood an installation titled “Our House is on Fire”. The installation was brought to life by Danish art studio SIIKU and seeks to raise an awareness that our world is still very much burning. At that moment, it became even more clear just how acutely aware the people of Copenhagen are of our changing world. Similar to Nuuk, Copenhagen launched an organization by the name of Tourism for Good Strategy which focuses on developing sustainable tourism strategies in relation to the UN’s SDGs. Most intriguing is a new project where 400 homes housed under one roof will embody all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As such, the new Ørestad South district is the first project of its kind!

After being in one of the world’s most environmentally conscious cities, I began to wonder if Copenhagen is one of the most sustainable cities in the world because of its relations to Greenland. Are the urban design and building policies more rigorous because of an increased awareness of climate change’s impacts on people, planet, and ecosystems? We have a lot to learn from this capital city’s sustainable initiatives.



As temperatures keep rising and the ice continues to melt Greenlanders find themselves yet again adapting to an ever-changing world. The ice-filled waters never look the same. Icebergs, big and small, have a life of their own from the moment a glacier breaks off to the moment they melt into the sea. The icebergs are shaped by the elements around them: by the winds, by the waves, by the climate. Much like the shape-shifting icebergs, the people of the land, Kaalallit Nunnaat, have continually adapted to the changing conditions by following the way, ever changing with the times.

During this fellowship, I had the opportunity to meet inspiring individuals and some of the most resilient people I have come across. This research trip has ignited an interest in me on further studying climate adaptation. I am full of gratitude for being awarded the 2021 Mary Kolb Berglund and the 2021 McDermott Traveling Fellowships. The role of architecture is meant to be experienced in person. One must experience the many layers of a place’s geographical, social, economic, political, and built conditions. My hope through this report is to not only raise awareness of how Greenlanders are facing climate change, but to inspire students of architecture, young and experienced professionals alike, to continue to search. To search for answers to questions far beyond an internet search. Exposing oneself to completely different worlds is how one grows exponentially.


A special thank you goes out to Amanda Aman for encouraging me to apply to the ADEX Traveling Fellowships, for her advice throughout the application process, and for sharing her passion on Arctic studies. Another thank you to Erneeraq Benjaminsen, a tour guide from South Greenland who was the first person I connected with on Instagram (@erneer). I had the opportunity to interview Erneer via Instagram which helped with my research for the studio. He also taught me how to properly pronounce a few Greenlandic words! Lastly, a big thank you to the AD EX for coordinating and to the McDermott & Mary Kolb Berglund families for supporting this effort.

Interested in applying for a traveling fellowship? Applications are available now!