Arcticness (or Northernness) has been expressed in the planning and design of Arctic cities over the past century. This paper explores how the imaginary conveyed in this notion has influenced the urbanism and architecture of northern communities in different ways. It traces the convergence of national urbanisms of the North towards an architectural idea of an ‘Arctic city’ during the latter half of the twentieth century. The exceptionalism expressed as Arcticness became central to the architectural discourse on urban liveability across the circumpolar region during the 1970s and 1980s. However, concerns over Arcticness obscured the presence of urbanity in urban planning and development in the North. The paper concludes with a discussion of the contemporary use and relevance of Arcticness in developing new architectural identities in northern cities. Such identities are cultivated as a component of city branding for tourists, investors and ‘creative’ knowledge workers. Today, cities promote Arcticness in their aspiration to become a ‘Capital of the Arctic’.