In a small Arctic town in Sweden, a construction crew bundled up in heavy parkas is bustling around a building site unlike any other: a massive ice hotel is taking shape.
Armed with thick gloves and safety helmets over fur-lined hats, the builders in the northern town of Jukkasjaervi assemble two-tonne blocks of ice as if they were a large set of Lego blocks, with the end result a giant igloo with several domes, vaulted ceilings and archways.
In one hallway, a worker uses a large pick to carve a door out of the blue-tinged packed snow, working up a sweat despite the sub-zero temperatures as he exhales feathery puffs of breath.
The builders had just a few weeks to sculpt 65 hotel rooms, a lobby and reception area, a main hall and an ice bar in a race against the clock ahead of the December opening.
An ice chapel will be added to host weddings and christenings, complete with an ice-sculpted altar, font and pews.
And yet all this effort is ephemeral: in a few months the entire structure will melt away with the spring thaw.
“We’re completely dependent on the weather, we have a schedule to adhere to but it varies from year to year,” Icehotel representative Beatrice Karlsson said.
The construction method is unique to the Icehotel, according to Nordic architecture expert Rasmus Waern.
“It’s totally original. There’s no tradition in Scandinavia of building with ice,” he said.
But it is rapidly becoming a tradition: the Icehotel is being staged for the 23rd time this year on the shores of the Torne river from where the ice is taken.
“In March, 5,000 tonnes of ice are pulled from the river and then conserved in two-tonne blocks in two warehouses where the temperature is maintained at between minus eight and minus five degrees Celsius (between 17.6 and 23 Fahrenheit),” explains Jens Thoms Ivarsson, in charge of the hotel’s interior design.
Construction typically begins in the autumn, when the first polar chills descend on Sweden’s far north.
But five months later, once spring arrives and with it the long-awaited sun, the entire site melts down.
“We return to the Torne what we borrowed,” says Thoms Ivarsson, grateful for the river’s loan without which the Icehotel could not exist.
Once the building process is completed, the interior still needs to be decorated: ornate chandeliers will embellish the main hall, while avant-garde sculptures, bas reliefs, and chairs and beds all cut out of ice await.
Each of the 16 suites is considered a unique piece of art, designed by artists selected from more than 100 applicants from all corners of the globe.
While management refuses to disclose how much the entire endeavour costs each year, the hotel’s interior design alone has a budget of five million kronor (580,000 euros, $752,000).