Some winter inspiration: Building with ice bricks

Huge blocks of ice are sawed out of the frozen Torne River to be used as building blocks.

It started as a fun temporary idea but years later the Ice Hotel still remains.

It’s the season of temperatures dropping, noses running and spirits lowering, but winter isn’t all bad. During the Australian winter, days are up to five hours shorter than they are in summer, which roughly equates to around ten hours of sunlight and fourteen of darkness. This is very mild in comparison to the depths of winter experienced in Swedish lapland, where it might only be light for four hours a day. Still, the people who live in these tough conditions find ways to enjoy the winter, such as building monumental ice buildings.
The northern Swedish town of Jukkasjärvi, for instance, is home to the ICEHOTEL - a completely novel art installation/hotel built entirely out of ice bricks. What was originally a temporary art installation, now includes permanent buildings made of ice that are open all year round. Mining the ice bricks and maintaining their structural integrity is an impressive example of sustainability and whimsical engineering.

A render of the permanent hotel shows the smooth, igloo-type roofs that are used for tobogganing during the winter and are covered with grass during the warmer months.

Ice bricks for the hotel buildings are harvested from the nearby Torne River, which freezes completely every winter. Using farm equipment and saws, two tonne bricks are cut from the frozen river and then hand-carved to give them the correct finish. The ice has to be harvested in spring, when the top layer of the river has started to slightly soften, and then they are kept in cool rooms until the following year.

The entrance to ICEHOTEL 365 shows the packed layers of ice bricks.

The permanent ice-brick buildings have exterior steel frames in a rounded, igloo-like shape, while the inside is packed with ice blocks. The steel frame provides shape, insulation, and a carrier for the air conditioning system, which is needed to maintain a low interior temperature during the summer. The indoor temperature of the hotel is set constantly at minus five degrees to keep the bricks intact. (For those wondering how people actually sleep inside, they usually only stay one night and sleep in arctic sleeping bags.)

ICEHOTEL 365 during the construction phases, showing the internal support structures.

The air conditioning required to keep the hotel at a low temperature are powered sustainably by solar panels. “600 square meters of solar panels are placed on the ice storage’s roof and that facility will generate 130 000 kWh per year,” reports the hotel. During summer, when the ice is at the greatest risk of melting, the sun shines for 24 hours a day. The midnight sun is the perfect source of energy.
“In cold climates, interiors lose heat through ventilation and transmission, which can be greatly reduced by using a heat exchanger or thick insulation and triple-glazed windows/doors, respectively,” describes lead architect Hans Eek. “In warm weather, the reverse principal makes it possible to use photovoltaic cells to generate the energy needed to keep the hotel cool”.
So next time the mercury drops below fifteen degrees, think about the people who choose to sleep in minus five degrees inside the ICEHOTEL and feel warmer.

This installation of ice bricks recalls the crystalline beauty of the POESIA glass brick.

All photos provided by ICEHOTEL.

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