SUSTAINABILITY: Things are hotting up at Sweden’s coolest holiday venue
by Erik Skoglund
By hosting the famous Icehotel, the tiny village of Jukkasjärvi in the far north of Sweden has really lived up to the words of the Swedish national anthem: “When honoured Thy name flew across the earth”.
Until now, this unique tourist attraction has only been built and in operation during the winter season, but all that is about to change. The next challenge is to turn the Icehotel into an all-year round venue constructed on the water and powered by the sun, with the aim of becoming carbon dioxide negative. Volvo machines play a major role in this transformation with the mammoth tasks on site executed by Volvo wheel loader models L60E, L35B, L30B and a 1992 L50.
“When I first moved here, people told me that the winters are dark and cold. Even the tourist manager was convinced that nobody in their right mind would come to visit Jukkasjärvi during winter. He called it a ‘cold hole’,” says Icehotel founder Yngve Bergkvist. “I wanted to change that image, and started to think about how we could use the cold in a productive and exciting way,” he continues.
The result of his reflections now entices excited tourists from all over the world to stay in a hotel made entirely from snow and natural ice, with ice art exhibitions on display both inside and out. “We have actually had the biggest art exhibition north of Stockholm for 20 years running, without preserving a single piece – they have all gone back to the river every year.”
As the popularity of the hotel has grown, there has been a knock-on effect on the local community and its inhabitants. “They have witnessed people coming from all over the world to experience ‘their’ winter,” Bergkvist says, and gives the example of a visit by supermodel Naomi Campbell, who was encased in an ice bottle on the Torne River as part of an advertising campaign. “I think all of these things have helped to gradually change the old image of a cold and dark place to something more positive and productive,” adds Bergkvist.
“Nevertheless, we have never been satisfied with the natural off-season that the summer usually presents. And that’s what we are going to change things with the new all-year facility.”
From a sustainability point of view, the Icehotel is already in a league of its own. The natural ice is cultivated and harvested from the Torne River, which flows past the Icehotel. Come spring, most of the hotel and all the artwork melts and returns to the river. This minimizes wastage and emissions as the ice does not have to be transported from source to storage and any that is not used goes back into the river in spring.
“I have a background in environmental science and have always believed that you should be able to utilize and recycle every part of what you build,” Bergkvist says. The goal is to make the hotel CO2 negative, an objective set in 2008, and many steps have already been taken to minimize emissions in the near future.
The warm buildings within the hotel complex are heated using only renewable energy, storm water is used to save tap water and wastewater from the ice-storage cooling system is reused. All laundry is handled on site, saving on transport, and the facility repurposes the excess steam from washers and dryers.
Plans for the all-year-round hotel include a solar-cell park to keep the hotel chilled during the warmer periods.
The sketches reveal an architecturally sleek building, combining the hotel’s smooth arched ceiling design with traditional methods and sustainable renewable energy. The state-of-the-art solar power plant will generate more than enough power to keep the facility cold during summer.
That arctic phenomenon the midnight sun provides a unique opportunity to generate power throughout the night. As a result, the sun will ensure that the guests at the Icehotel get a cold night’s sleep and a warm welcome in the morning.
Over the years, the unique construction conditions have presented new challenges for both man and machine. Alf Kero, the site manager, has been working on the venue for more than ten years. “The biggest challenge with planning and constructing the Icehotel is definitely the weather. The autumn never looks the same from year to year. The perfect scenario is a winter with between -10°C and -15°C starting in the middle of October,” he explains.
The process of cultivating and harvesting natural ice has been fine-tuned over the years. “Starting in January, we clear snow from the marked areas on the river. We then use custom-made applications for the machines when we harvest from the middle of March and put the ice in storage for the next season. The extreme cold is definitely a challenge for man and machine as we are working at -30° to -40°C at times. For this purpose, we only use Volvo machines as they are fuel-efficient and generally regarded as the most reliable.”
The machines are used to harvest ice and move snow and ice blocks used for building as well as clearing snow during the tourist season.
Bergkvist is enthusiastic about the imminent launch of the new all-year Icehotel, scheduled for December 2016. “We are basically building a shell that contains walls of snow and ice. There will be 20 rooms, a 200-square-meter ice bar and a large art hall with sculptures and exhibitions, all available 365 days of the year.”
There is something special for youngsters, too. Playgrounds in Kiruna, next door to the Icehotel, are covered with snow and ice for seven to eight months of the year. Local residents, working in conjunction with the Icehotel, came up with a solution in the shape of an ice park for children.
“We are building a playground made entirely of ice and snow, complete with slides, labyrinths and all sorts of fun things. It is being created with excess material from the River Torne and the Icehotel construction. It
takes great precision to place and fit the pieces together,” explains project leader Mats Persson, who alsoworks as a machine operator.
The playground is a collaborative project between the Icehotel, Kiruna municipality, local government agency Tekniska Verken and designers at PinPin Studio. Students at the local school Hjalmar Lundbohmsskolan are also an important part of the process.
“Three years ago, the students made a very much appreciated ‘miniature version’ of the playground as a school project,” says Petra Wadlund Lindh of the Icehotel. “This project is a continuation of that goal which was to make something that could be appreciated by children as well as adults. We simply want to make something fun but beautiful.”
The playground eventually melts in April or May.
“It’s fantastic to work on a local project for children, which at the same time is aesthetically beautiful. And it gives us a chance to share the knowledge of working with snow and ice that we’ve gathered over the 26 seasons we’ve been building the hotel,” Lindh concludes.
www.volvoce.com/buildingtomorrow – www.icehotel.com