While many people find my interest in camping in sub-zero temperatures bizarre, in the north of Sweden, one of the world’s most unusual hotels has created an amazing business around just such an interest. The Ice Hotel offers its guests the unique opportunity to sleep in a -5 C (23 F) room on a bed of ice located in a hotel also made of ice. As if this were not enough to warrant a visit, the hotel is also unique in that it is completely rebuilt each year with a new design.
In fact, while it’s easy to focus on the freezing temperatures and strange construction materials (only snow, ice and a mixture of the two are used), the Ice Hotel is at least as much work of art as hotel. Filled with both decorative and functional art, each year’s hotel is the result of the collaborative effort of approximately 40 guest artists who join a staff of four full-time designers.
The result each year is a new work of art which includes artist suites, an ice bar and even an ice church. Yet despite the incredible effort that goes into the construction each year (and the artists only make up a part of the huge team required), each April this masterpiece slowly fades away. In what may be one of the Earth’s greatest examples of recycling the hotel melts and returns to the Torne river out of which it came, clearing the canvas and allowing a new team to come and begin a new creation with the knowledge gained from the past, but without the constraints of an old framework.
It is perhaps this cycle of creation and destruction that best defines the Ice Hotel. Like the beautiful sand Mandalas of Tibet which the monks sweep away
the moment they finish, the Ice Hotel is a transient art form, destined to last only a few months. Yet unlike the Mandalas which focus on small patterns and fine details, the hotel is transient art on a grand scale. Instead of grains of sand two-ton blocks of ice form the basis of a building filled with Romanesque arches and great pillars.
A book could and has been written on the Ice Hotel and a short blog entry can only be a poor introduction. The innovative building technology, the international gathering of artists, the manufacture of ice for ice bars around the world, all of these topics and more are worthy of attention. Yet for now I will content myself with knowing that even in an extreme out of the way place like the solitary bank of a river in the Arctic Circle there is something incredible waiting to be discovered by anyone with sense of adventure enough to go look for it.