We will soon be experiencing one of my favorite times of the year: the first snowfall. While contemplating grey skies today and wondering when that event might present itself, I started reminiscing about the amazing snow forts that my family used to build together. There is something inherently tactile about snow. It is a substance that can be molded like clay, and when the season is right, is available to just about anyone. Snow piles lend themselves to being hollowed out. Snowballs lend themselves to being stacked, and inevitably bunkers find themselves being make out of ammo. Snow has not lost its buildable nature, but it has lost its place as a viable building material.
Historically, snow has been used as a building material by peoples living around the Arctic Circle. It is best known as the building blocks for igloos. However, snow was also packed over structures of wood or bones to take advantage of its insulative qualities. Snow has an R-Value of 1, which is greater or equal to the R-Values of poured concrete, glass, brick, hard and soft wood. Due in part to a loss of nomadic lifestyle in these regions and enforced governmental restrictions, snow structures have been replaced by cut timber, a more permanent solution.
ICEHOTEL is a project that takes advantage of the cyclical and ephemeral nature of snow. The structure is built yearly by different artists near the Torne river in a little town named Jukkasjärvi in Sweden. Snow is blown onto metal formwork and allowed to freeze solid. The formwork is then removed, leaving a surreal structure within which guests can stay. Despite being located several hours north of the Arctic Circle, the interior of the structure never reaches below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
In Minnesota, known nationally for our harsh winters, the closest that we get to snow structures is during the Winter Carnival and the snow forts I remember so fondly. With the cold comes the need for seasonal structures, be it ice fishing cabins, skiing lodges, or outdoor ice rink shacks. Our climate in conjunction with these types of temporal structures could work to find a relevant use for snow construction.