An icy installation brings architect Steven Holl and sculptor Jene Highstein to Lapland
Judith Gura -- Interior Design, 8/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Imagine this: you're invited to arctic northern Finland to join a project that pairs architects with artists—most of whom have never met before—and involves work in indigenous materials you've never considered. All to design a structure that's destined to self-destruct in weeks. Would you accept?
The intrepid American duo of architect Steven Holl and sculptor Jene Highstein have already risen to the challenge, building a preview structure for an event called the Snow Show. Slated to open in Finnish Lapland next March, this installation of 30 snow and ice structures was conceived by Finnish Foreign Ministry councillor Tuula Yrjola and art dealer Lance Fung. The European Union, Unesco, the Finnish Cultural Fund, and the Finnish cities of Rovaniemi and Kemi are underwriting the travel and construction costs for 60-plus architects and artists from 30 countries. But it's worth it, the sponsors hope, to position Finland's most frigid reaches as a cultural hot spot.
Initial sketches for the Holl-Highstein project, Oblong Voidspace, revealed a boxy exterior (Holl's influence) surrounding a curved form (Highstein's). A construction team of 35 began by stacking several hundred standard ice blocks—3 feet high, 2 feet thick, and 6 1/2 feet long—to construct a 30-foot cube left open to the sky. To build the curved vessel inside, the team stacked more blocks, for an overall sum of 750 (an estimated 500 tons of ice).
The biggest surprise was the interior's highly textured surface, a by-product of the traditional ice-carving tools used to shape the curve. "It was an experiment in space and light," says Holl. Adds Highstein, "We didn't know what color the ice would be." It was, in fact, several colors, depending on the effects of light. Morning's translucent green became opaque white by afternoon. At night, floodlights turned the ice almost transparent. No matter the time of day, though, Oblong Voidspace remained extraordinarily beautiful—until the sun's rays rendered the vision a beautiful memory.