The Ilulissat Icefjord Centre in Greenland, designed by Danish architect Dorte Mandrup finally opens its doors to the public. The project will act as a central spot for exploring the various aspects of ice, history, and human evolution on both a local and global scale. It would have direct implications on the science and research field as well as on tourism in the region, as the building stands to view and represent the relationship between nature and civilization.  

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Ilulissat Icefjord Centre_© Adam Mørk.

“The Icefjord Centre offers a refuge in the dramatic landscape and aims to become a natural gathering point from which you can experience the infinite, non-human scale of the Arctic wilderness, the transition between darkness and light, the midnight sun, and the northern lights dancing across the sky…”  

The center was designed as a community spot for people to explore the extravagant element of the ice fjords of Greenland. It creates an interesting focal point amongst the vast expanses of the arid, polar landscape, while also guiding visitors through a journey of discovery and wonder and uses a storytelling element to captivate and engage the public to the various aspects of the natural wonders of the region. Nestled in the stark polar environment, it aptly reflects the natural elements of the region such as the transient, though alluring natural light, the undulating topography, and the resource availability through various building elements and expressions.


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Ilulissat Icefjord Centre in the vast expanse of theSermeq Kujalleq in winter _© Adam Mørk.

The massive glacier Sermeq Kujalleq on the western coast of Greenland acts as the prime focus of the site. This glacier on the UNESCO-protected site provides an excellent spot for glaciologists to study the glacier, its lifetime, and its properties. It can also contribute to studies related to climate change and its effects on the tundra environment. Hence, the center as a whole attracts a large number of such researchers, scientists, and visitors, offering both a knowledge-based and aesthetical aspect to the enormity of the site.


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Strcuture of the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre _© Adam Mørk.

The structure consists of a delicately twisted form, made from a system of 52, uniquely designed steel trusses and glass panes, made to mimic the motion of ‘a snowy owl’s flight through the landscape’,as explained by Dorte Mandrup. It is designed in such a way to reduce its effective weight on the more fragile bedrock it rests upon, as well as the flora and fauna of the space. It uses sustainable options to reduce its carbon footprint by using minimal concrete for construction and supporting effective energy use. The design of the form allows for complete functionality and aids in the storytelling process as well.

The sloping roof provides an excellent view-point and gathering spot for visitors, also allowing for the sliding of snowfall, while the ribbon of glass allows for optimal lighting of interior spaces and offers a constant connection to the icy exterior natural environment.


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Interiors of the center with icicle exhibits designed by JAC_© Adam Mørk.

The interiors of the space consist of several exhibitions and community gathering spots, sprinkled with exhibits and guides to further educate the public about the tundra environment. It tells the story of an iceberg from its initial stages to its movement, formation, and transformation, through the past to the present context. Designed by firm JAC, these exhibits are then presented in a series of mouth-blown glass structures all created by 3D scanning ice blocks from the natural ice fjord, with ice core drillings, dating from way back to 124,000 BC. To exemplify its setting as a “public space”, Dorte Mandrup also provided a number of amenities such as various exhibition spaces, a café, a film theatre, and shops amongst its research and educational facilities.

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Ilulissat Icefjord Centre Café with wooden material palette for comfort and wide windows to connect the outer environments and the interior spaces_© Adam Mørk.

Its use of material and formwork helps blend the interiors with the exterior environments, maintaining circulation and views as a connecting factor throughout the design. While walking through the interiors of the building, one may observe the stark difference between the effect of natural lighting on different surfaces at different angles and times of the day.

The glazing and the multiple open spaces in the building allow people to understand the sharpness and vibrancy of the natural light in the region, while the panorama-based design allows for a complete immersion of visitors into the environment of glaciers and ice fjords. Dorte Mandrup used a contrast of material choice in the interiors, with its elements of warm-hued wood, and exteriors, a modernist language of steel and glass, to highlight the multiple facets of the local environment.


Ilulissat Icefjord Centre Café at sunset with the rugged landscape in the background _© Adam Mørk.

Dorte Mandrup designed the center to work as a central tool in boosting several aspects related to societal development, through climate awareness, tourism, recreation as well as economic growth. It uses a brilliant blend of dynamic form and material to fascinate guests while being completely appropriate for the regional conditions and climate. Its dynamic and unique form and language successfully merge functionalism and aesthetics to support the vision of the center and strengthen its status as a spot for community and knowledge.


Joshua Fernandes is an architecture student and an avid cinephile who always looks at the whimsical side of things. Hawaiian pizza, pop culture references, and writing are his true passions. He loves discovering new music and movies, being outdoors and believes that the beauty of the world lies in the smallest details hidden within.

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