Each winter artists from around the world gather in Jukkasjärvi, Swedish Lapland, for a huge art project that is well known as Icehotel. Whether you’ve already stayed here or have yet to experience it first-hand, there is a fascinating story to be told behind the history and construction of this unique and enchanting art project.
The foundations were laid in the 1980s when the founder of Icehotel, when Yngve Bergqvist, invited two sculptors from Hokkaido, Japan, to instruct a sculpting workshop in Jukkasjärvi. Yngve wanted to attract visitors to this area during the winter months and build an igloo in the Inuit style, but larger than ever created before. The first ice sculptures on the shores of the River Torne were closely followed by an igloo – a specially designed ice-and-snow structure built using a mould-forming technique. Eventually the project grew from a 60m² igloo to a 250m² structure housing everything from church services, film showings and a bar. The construction technique was patented in Sweden and Norway and eventually the first parties of guests arrived to stay overnight.
Icehotel is the world’s first and largest hotel built of snow and ice. It covers 5,500m² and is constructed from 1,000 tonnes of river ice and 30,000 tonnes of ‘snice’, a mixture of snow and ice that the strength to the structure. Building is a year-round process. In March and April, 4,000 tonnes of ice is harvested from the River Torne and kept in cold storage over the summer. In mid-November, snice is sprayed over metal moulds. Once the snice freezes (this takes a couple of days), the moulds are removed and a maze of individual corridors remain. Walls are built into the corridors separating the rooms and suites from each other. Blocks of ice harvested earlier in the year are now transported into the hotel where artists from around the world begin to create particular areas of the Icehotel.
Each year, Icehotel is reborn in a new guise. Some 100 people are involved in the build, half of whom are artists. The construction takes place in November to December, and the Icehotel opens between December and mid-April, after which the structure slowly melts and returns to the river.
Many people want to know the secret behind Icehotel and they will tell you it is the pure water from the River Torne, so pure you can drink it unfiltered directly from the river. This year – 2012 – sees the creation of the 23rd Icehotel. Preparations start this week and the first artists arrive in November.