The Story of Icehotel
The circle of ice
Every year, when Torne River turns to ice, a new Icehotel is created in the small village of Jukkasjärvi in the north of Sweden. The ice of the river transforms to design and architecture - an ephemeral art project and the world’s first, and largest hotel built of snow and ice.
The rhythm of Torne
200 km north of the Arctic Circle, Sweden, the majestic Torne River winds through ancient mountains and deep forests, to the small village of Jukkasjärvi. One of the last untouched rivers in Europe, she generously lends us pristine natural ice as she hibernates on her journey to the coast. In spring, the sun melts artwork and returns our loan.
Icehotel has been reborn in a new guise every year since 1989, when we first built the art exhibition of ice and snow that was to become a kind of hotel the world had never seen before.
Meeting by the water
The name Jukkasjärvi is as exotic as the place itself. Where the midnight sun glows during summer and doesn’t rise above the horizon during two weeks in winter. Where we have snow eight months of the year and the Aurora Borealis lights up the night sky. Where 900 residents and 1100 dogs have their home.
Jukkasjärvi is a historic marketplace, and its very name translates to “meeting place by the water”. Our intention is for Icehotel to also bring people together around ice and art.
Yngve Bergqvist, founder of Icehotel
In 1989 the 250 square meter igloo Artic Hall opened, an art gallery with art created out of ice and snow.
– On a cold winters day, all of our warm cabins were booked for the night but we had a group that wanted to stay the night. I suggested that they could sleep in the cold Artic Hall. To my surprise, the guests said yes so we equipped them with warm sleeping bags and instructed them how to sleep in the cold. The morning after they were blown away by the experience. Icehotel was born.
At the heART of it all
Ever since we first started in 1989, Icehotel has been an ephemeral art exhibition centered around the idea of exploring art by introducing creative inviduals to ice and snow. All the artwork in Icehotel is original and protected under the Copyright Act.
For us, it’s not about coming up with a theme of the year or hiring the best ice sculptors. Our role is to collect the most innovative and ground-breaking ideas from around the world, bring them to Jukkasjärvi and give them the material, technical know-how and tools to transform those ideas into actual hotel suites.
So if not ice sculptors, who are the makers of Icehotel? Well, it changes from year to year but graphic designers, architects, industrial engineers, artists – the list goes on. The Creative Board makes an open call for design proposals every spring. The best concepts get an invitation to the two-week art symposium to create the suite in person.
Out of 120-150 proposals, 15-20 are accepted and invited to come to Jukkasjärvi in November to build their design. Diversity is an important factor, and the panel strives to have a balanced representation of sex, origin, age and experience. Some artists are local, while others may have traveled from Asia or South America and have never experienced snow before.
“To create a suite at Icehotel is genuine, excruiantly tough, magic and absolutely lovely all at the same time. The art is preserved in the walls for a few months, a human imprint that slowly melts away.”
- AnnaSofia Mååg, artist
When the cold arrives to the Arctic, the river also slows down and the landscape changes shape. This marks a period of intense activity on the shore in Jukkasjärvi – Icehotel is being reborn.
“We see nature as our friend – we want to work with it rather than in spite of it. Sure, that means you can’t plan everything in detail, but at the same time that’s what makes it so much fun,”
Niklas Byman, construction team.
Huge blocks of ice, weighing two tons apiece, were harvested from the river late the previous winter and have been stored in anticipation of the start of building.
Snice (snow+ice) is the main construction material for floors, walls, and ceilings because of its durability.
Molds are used to create the shape, but the material is strong enough to stand alone and after a few days’ consolidations the molds are removed. The corridors and rooms are constructed in a classic, catenary arch shape, which is self-supporting and incredibly strong.
Room after room is filled with snow and ice in the right amounts, so when the artists arrive they can get started and immediately turn their sketches into reality. Six weeks later it’s finished – with the work of many hands the river has changed shape and been transformed into art.
The light that gives life
The final touch is the lighting design – as most of the art work is transparent, light adds an important dimension to the end result. A team of light designers work closely with the creators of each room in the hotel to ensure the lightning interprets and enhances the art work in the best way possible.