Ice. It is quite literally the greenest building material on Earth. Pure solid water. What other type of building dissolves harmlessly back into our rivers when it is no longer needed? But it doesn’t stop there. When one says “green” and “environmentally friendly”, all to often the word that hides just below the surface is “bland”. But buildings made of ice are anything but vanilla. They are exotic works of art worth traveling thousands of miles to see. Whether it be a child’s snow-fort, or the ice palace of a Russian noble, these buildings are definitely fun sites to behold.
You didn’t think we could do a list of buildings and places made of snow and ice without including the grand-daddy of them all, did you? Many don’t seem to realize just how well igloos work. It’s a dome of ice; how warm could it be? Well, consider this… while the temperature outside could be as low as -49 degrees Fahrenheit, the igloos interior could be anywhere between 19 to 61 degrees. And that’s not with a fire, mind you, that’s just from body heat. Igloos really grabbed everyone’s attention in 1922 when the silent documentary “Nanook of the North” was released. From then on, even children in pre-school are fascinated by these unique dwellings. To see an actual igloo yourself, head for Canada’s arctic wilderness or Greenland.
What’s a quinzhee? It’s basically a poor man’s igloo (but don’t tell the Eskimos we called it that). Whereas an igloo is constructed of blocks of snow, a quinzhee is much more simple. To do it, first find a flat area. Next gather up a pile of snow. Don’t use a pile that formed naturally. We need a good, sturdy, man-made pile. Once it’s high enough (per your taste), let it set for three to four hours. Then, hollow it out. Presto, instant snow house. Where can you find them? Anywhere you can find snow. Heck, make one in your own backyard. But please note that your super-awesome snow-house can turn into an uber-awful, man-made avalanche if you’re not careful. Snow is heavy, and having an unfinished quinzhee wouldn’t be pleasant. Suffice to say, be careful, don’t climb on top of them, and never-ever make one alone. Also, never hollow out the quinzhee while on your back. That’s a great way to get trapped. Quinzees will keep you substantially warmer than the outside temperature, especially if kept small inside.
Minus5 Ice Lounge
This chain of bars is exactly as it sounds, a lounge set to a brisk minus five degrees Celsius in which the entire interior is made of ice. How much of it is made of ice? The walls, the seats, even the bar itself. But it doesn’t stop there; even the glasses you drink your ice cold vodka from are made of pure ice. The bars are then decorated further with a collection of ice sculptures. Minus5 was founded by the great-grandson of Buck Rockwell, Craig Ling. Buck Rockwell was a New Zealand adventurer who, while circumnavigating the north-pole, became stranded in a remote fishing village due to his ship being lodged in pack-ice. Rockwell formed a taste for ice-cold vodka during his stay, and now his family carries on the tradition. Minus5 bars can be found in Sydney, as well as the Gold Coast of Australia, Queenstown, Auckland, Viseu, and Las Vegas.
There are a number of ice hotels in the world. This one, named simply ICEHOTEL, is the largest and arguably the best. Located in Kiruna, Sweden, it is now over two decades old and has inspired many copycats. Every March, 10,000 tons of ice is harvested from the nearby Torne River. The ice from this river is especially clear, and therefore perfect for ice sculptures. The ice is then stored throughout the year, along with 30,000 tons of snow, until mid-November when artisans and engineers begin construction. That’s right, ICEHOTEL is rebuilt from scratch every year. Artists compete, and those chosen are allowed to sculpt a single suite within the hotel. This, of course, means that every room is completely one of a kind. When complete, the ICEHOTEL houses a reception area, main-hall, bar, and even a church… not to mention the suites for over 100 guests.
There have been many Ice Palace’s built as tourist attractions throughout the years. But let’s face it, a true palace is a building built for a noble. Amazingly, the first ice palace, built in the winter of 1739-1740, was constructed for just this purpose. Empress Anna Ivanovna ordered the palace’s creation as part of a celebration of Russia’s victory over Turkey at the time. The palace featured an ice garden, ice artillery, and of course, ice furniture. As it typically goes with nobility, however, Empress Anna had to mar the occasion by utilizing the palace to punish Prince Mikhail Alekseyevich for marrying a Catholic, even though his bride had died a year before. He was ordered to become a jester and marry a court lady jester who was especially unattractive. The newlyweds were then locked in the palace and only survived by bribing the guards. Today, countless other ice palace’s have been built, including Empress Anna’s which has been rebuilt in Saint Petersburg every winter since 2005.
In the frozen north where trees don’t grow and the ground is covered with snow, it seems obvious that eventually someone would try to build a structure with the one material they had in almost endless abundance, ice. More impressive than the exotic building material though is the ingenuity necessary to create such structures. There is a trick to building snow-forts in one’s backyard, just as there is a trick to building the grandest of ice-palaces. And as with all of them, they are definitely worth the trip to see, whether it be a flight half-way around the globe or simply peering out your family room window.
photo credit: jesse.millan