In summer 2016, the Government of Greenland, the Municipality of Qaasuitup and Realdania, launched an international competition to design the Icefjord Centre in Ilulissat. The project aimed to create a local and global meeting point for residents, tourists, businesses, and climate researchers by the Icefjord in the UNESCO-protected area on the west coast of Greenland. The international design competition was won by Danish architect Dorte Mandrup, to design the new Icefjord center.
About the Architect
Mandrup is a graduate of the Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark in 1991 and later founded her Copenhagen-based studio. There she also works as a Creative Director. She has a keen eye for incorporating the elements of the surrounding environment. She strongly believes in protecting and developing while robustly working with her design philosophy and is artistic yet systematic. Apart from her studio, she is also Vice Chairman of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, a member of the Historic Buildings Council in Denmark, Adjunct Professor at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Dorte is professional and is well acclaimed for her commitment.
“Our forte is designing for complex and challenging sites – and doing so with an insightfulness that addresses environmental and societal issues.”
Around 250 km north of the Arctic Circle, Ilulissat Icefjord is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, “Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the fastest and the most active glaciers in the world.” As per the beliefs of glaciologists, Ilulissat Icefjord is dangerous and might be the reason behind the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912. As per an approximate estimate, it produces 10% of all Greenland calf ice. Studies have suggested that it has helped humans to develop and understand climate change and icecap glaciology. The area carries thousands of years of cultural heritage, which is necessary for a contemporary understanding of climate change.
The estate is capable enough to fulfill the size demand profusely for representation of the geological process of the ice fjord. The property retains physical features with a high degree of natural integrity due to climatic limitations and zero road existence. The terrain is protected and conserved by an established framework of government legislation and protective designations and local planning policies. The area has special laws to ensure that the exploitation of biological resources in the area is sustainable. Hence it was an idle location for the creation of a center for scientific observation of climate change.
The architect desired to blend the structure with the marvelous landscape to enable the center to narrate the “story of ice, of human history, and evolution” at all levels. The project got completed in 2021 and is open to the public and free to access. The center is planned to fulfill the demand of creating a dynamic learning and exhibition space in the Arctic snow and ice landscape. The building overlooks Kangia Icefjord and provides an aesthetic view to its users. The aerodynamic, low-lying, curved structure tries its best to avoid any negative impact. The research center is designed to have a film theatre, a cafe, exhibition space, shop, and research and educational facilities. As the visitors enter, they are met by a large display wall with an introduction to the large UNESCO site. The display wall then leads to the entry vestibule. The cafe is ideally placed on the left of the vestibule and has a separate entrance during summers. The shop is located near the entrance and visible as one enters. Mobile furniture items are used to adjust the space according to convenience. The administrative office and research center are located at the southern end near the western terrace.
The exhibition space created by JAC Studios consists of archaeological objects and films. The exhibition boasts ice prisms of glass that are created from ice blocks collected in the Kangia Icefjord. After collection, the ice blocks are 3D scanned and mouth-blown in a glass. The visitors are presented with the journey of ice from the birth of the ice crystal to when it becomes part of the inland ice and later, eventually moves towards the glacier and breaks off in icebergs.
The unique movement of the structure and form is the most standout factor of the project. The roof was built as a public space that acts as a natural extension to the existing hiking routes and starting point of the heritage trail. It offers the visitors stunning views of the massive icebergs and surrounding landscape of the island. The nearby community gathers in this area to celebrate the sun for 40 minutes in January after six weeks of darkness. The roof can be utilized as a gathering space for sunset or evening sun.
The structure is designed as sustainably as possible for such climatic conditions. The most predominant material used for the construction was steel frames with the minimum amount of concrete. The target was to have the minimum carbon footprint. The wooden framework and zionist truss enhance the look and appeal of the structure. Because of the materials used, it is immensely lightweight that helps in reducing the impact on the ancient bedrock and its fragile flora and fauna.
The glass panels can be alternated with wooden panels to fulfill the layout of the exhibition design. The daylight and glare are taken care of by motorized wooden louvers. The louvers regulate the amount of daylight and glare according to the ongoing season.
Greenland has envisioned five visitors centers that will take its tourism industry to a whole new level. The purpose of these centers is to showcase the nature experiences and cultural heritage that Greenland has.
- Matthew H Birkhold.(2019).The World’s Fastest Glacier Is Loud, Dangerous, and Transfixing.[Last updated June 27, 2019]. Available at: The World’s Fastest Glacier Is Loud, Dangerous, and Transfixing – Atlas Obscura.[Accessed: 18/ 09/ 2021].
- UNESCO. Ilulissat Icefjord. Available at: Ilulissat Icefjord – UNESCO World Heritage Centre.[Accessed: 18/ 09/ 2021].
- Dorte Mandrup.Ilulissat Icefjord Centre,Greenland. Available at: Ilulissat Icefjord Centre, Greenland | Dorte Mandrup.[Accessed: 18/ 09/ 2021].
- WA Contents.(2021).Dorte Mandrup Completes Curved Icefiord Centre In The UNESCO-Protected Area Of Greenland.[Last updated Sept 9, 2021].Available at: Dorte Mandrup completes curved Icefiord Centre in the UNESCO-protected area of Greenland (worldarchitecture.org).[Accessed: 18/ 09/ 2021].
- ICON.(2021).Dorte Mandrup completes Greenland visitor centre.[Last updated Sept 14, 2021]. Available at: Dorte Mandrup completes Greenland visitor centre – ICON Magazine (iconeye.com).[Accessed: 18/ 09/ 2021].