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How To Make A Building Out Of Ice

The Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is carefully crafted each fall, only to melt away by the next spring.

Every year, a new hotel rises out of the Arctic wonderland of northern Sweden. The original Icehotel has been running for 25 winters, constructed out of snow and ice from the local river in the town of Jukkasjärvi, with artist-designed rooms and furniture made entirely of frozen water. Even the cocktail glasses at the bar are made of ice.

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Open for only a few months each year, the Icehotel’s design changes with each new iteration, per the visions of different sculptors from around the world.

A Face In The Crowd by Mikael “Nille” Nilsson & Ingemar AlmerosChristopher Hauser

This is how the ice magic is made, according to a new feature in Smithsonian:

The construction of the hotel’s outer skeleton begins in early November, when temperatures in Jukkasjärvi begin to plummet. Through years of trial and error, Icehotel’s builders have developed a procedure for creating their own special steel frames, which they pack with snice (a mixture of snow and ice that reflects sunlight, thereby slowing the hotel’s eventual melt) and pure ice from the Thorne. The snice and ice are left to harden around steel frames for two days before the frames are removed, leaving behind a shell of ice and snow. When the artists arrive in mid-November, they find all the materials they’ll need to complete their rooms and suites, from piles of ice and snice to chisels and irons. Artists also work with light designers to create the perfect light environment for their room (Jukkasjärvi, with its location above the Arctic Circle, experiences near complete darkness during December and January, making artificial light a crucial part of the hotel experience).

The hotel opens in mid-December each year, closing in mid-April once the inevitable Arctic sun begins to rise over the horizon, melting the structure back into nothingness. Because the ice is locally sourced and only in operation during the coldest parts of the year (unlike, say, ice bars in Shanghai or New York), it’s a slightly more environmentally friendly operation than most ice-themed destinations. And the Icehotel’s ephemeral nature is part of what makes it appealing. “We borrow from nature, and return it in the springtime,” as the hotel’s creative director, Arne Bergh, tells Smithsonian.

Read the rest over at Smithsonian magazine.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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