Best served cold

11 July 2017

A frozen art gallery, 20 themed suites and an ice staircase feature in Icehotel’s first permanent lodgings, unveiled in Sweden in December. Ross Davies chills out with some of the designers behind the project, as well as founder Yngve Bergqvist.

For the average holidaymaker, the prospect of bedding down for the night in conditions below -5°C doesn’t sound immediately desirable. But try telling that to visitors of Icehotel 365, the world’s first permanent hotel to be built solely from ice. Having opened its doors in December in the small village of Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, the hotel has enjoyed high occupancy rates and generated impressive column inches, according to its founder, Yngve Bergqvist.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is not the first Icehotel Jukkasjarvi has seen. Bergqvist first came up with the concept in 1989 and has overseen the construction of 27 temporary properties in the intervening years, which melt away by spring. Icehotel 365 is the first built to withstand the seasons all year round. Construction of the buildings involves the use of around 30,000L of water from the River Torne – equivalent to 700 million snowballs.

Unlike its ephemeral counterpart, however, Icehotel 365 includes an undulating roof that is snow-covered in the winter months and topped by grass in the summer. It is kept cool by solar power from the midnight sun, allowing it to stand firm throughout the year.

“Our goal was to build something sustainable and interesting, and a new reason to visit us year round,” explains Bergqvist. “We have built a solar-panel park that is 700m² and able to produce around 80KW. So, when the temperature gets warmer and we have 24 hours of daylight, this gives us extra energy when we need it the most. We get a surplus of heat and can, at the same time, cool the building.”

A cold front

In addition to the €10 million spent on its construction, Bergqvist has not scrimped on aesthetics. Icehotel 365’s interior includes 20 suites, a gallery of frozen art and an ice staircase – the work of around 40 artists, designers and architects from across Europe.

Swedish duo Tjasa Gusfors and Patrick Dallard designed the Dancers in the Dark suite. In addition to its balletic motif and mood lighting, which includes sculpted dancers, the designers have written a music soundtrack to accompany the space.

“We wanted to form a suite filled with positive energy that translates to the guests and create a sensuous space,” says Gusfors, whose design was derived from over several tons of ice sourced from the nearby river.

“It was a nice feeling to be in the room for the first time and see the dancing ice sculptures surrounded with music that came from the same spirit,” he adds. Gusfors has been involved with the Icehotel since 2000.

Dutch artist Marjolein Vonk, alongside Italian artist Maurizio Perron, created one of the hotel’s nine deluxe suites, known as Wishful Thinking. Guests descend into the room via an icy staircase to a ‘floating’ bed above snow tentacles. According to Vonk, the idea behind the design was to conjure a sense of drifting akin to being in a dream.

“We had the idea of a story of a fisherman rowing his boat in the reflection of the moon under a sky full of shooting stars, and who makes a wish to sleep on the moon that has always guided him,” she says.

Dreamy conceptualism aside, the mere mention of gelid staircases doesn’t invoke the safest passage to one’s room. How does the hotel safeguard against potential accidents? And how do guests keep warm in the arctic climate?

“It is safe and secure to sleep at Icehotel,” answers Bergqvist confidently. “It is very rare that someone [gets too cold] during the night. We also have hosts who take care of the guests and give them instructions.

“The sleeping bags are very warm and comfortable, and the guests should only sleep in thermal underwear, which you can buy on site. All guests staying at Icehotel are also loaned winter boots, overalls, hats and gloves during their visit.”

Norwegian-Italian architect Luca Roncoroni’s Counting Sheep suite is redolent of a Victorian apartment, and includes an Art Nouveau headboard as well as frozen lamps and icesculpted antique bedside cabinets. Like Gusfors, Roncoroni’s involvement with the Icehotel dates back to the beginning of the millennium, when he worked as an ‘ice apprentice’ at the site of the temporary hotel as part of his architecture studies.

In the interim, he has been back several times to design and build different rooms, including a church. When asked to be part of the collective of designers to work on the new hotel, he jumped at the chance.

“When I saw the drawings of the new Icehotel 365 and the proportions of the rooms, I immediately thought of the airy, high-ceiling rooms of the Victorian period,” explains Roncoroni. “I also imagined how fun and challenging it would be to make a great amount of details out of ice. I normally work with more minimalistic projects, so the Victorian apartment was an opportunity to work with details and decoration, which were very intriguing for me.\

“It was also fun to see how people would react to objects that are very familiar – such as books, lamps and radiators – but that surprised them because of the material they were made of.”

Hold the ice

Other notable feats of glacial art and design can be credited to Swede Jens Thoms Ivarsson, who, together with his team, built the ice bar, The Fuzzy Chisel.

French architects Luc Voisin and Mathieu Brison, who have both worked on previous incarnations of the Icehotel, have returned to Jukkasjarvi to create a deluxe suite inspired by the Jazz Age. And Belgian-Dutch duo Viktor Tsarski and Wouter Biegelaar – also perennial visitors to Swedish Lapland – have designed the Crystal Forest, a deluxe suite that experiments with reflections, shadows and ice crystals.

Elsewhere, Swedes Lotta Lamp and Julia Gamborg Nielsen have come up with the Hydro Smack suite, which gives the sensation of being at the bottom of the ocean. Another Swedish designer back for another year is Anna Sofia Maag, who has created the Elephant in the Room suite – featuring a 3m-tall African elephant overlooking the bed.

Not all contributions come from seasoned ice artisans, however. The Dreamscape suite has been designed by UK architects Alex Haw and Aditya Bhatt from London’s Atmos Studio, who hitherto have not worked with snow and ice.

One might assume the burning question – in more ways than one – around Icehotel 365’s permanence concerns the march of global warming. Swedish Lapland is not immune to the effects of climate change, but it’s not something weighing too much on Bergqvist’s mind right now.

“Of course, it is a problem for the future, for all of us,” he says. “But we still have a long winter here in the north of Sweden and the climate is cold. Icehotel 365 will still work even if the winters get shorter. It is sustainable.”

Icehotel 365 in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden.
A curling ice staircase in Icehotel’s Dreamscape room by Atmos Studio.
Oh Deer, designed by Ulrika Tallving and Carl Wellander, is inspired by the Japanese onsen (hot spring).
The Counting Sheep suite by Luca Roncoroni, influenced by Art Nouveau.
The deluxe Once Upon a Time suite by Luc Voisin and Mathieu Brison.

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