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Ilulissat Icefjord Centre in Greenland, Dorte Mandrup Architects, Photo: Adam Mørk

On the Wings of the Snowy Owl: Ilulissat Icefjord Centre in Greenland

Ilulissat, formerly known as Jakobshavn, is home to 4,700 inhabitants and is thus Greenland’s third-largest community as well as an important tourist destination. Located 250 km north of the Arctic Circle, its attractions include Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the country’s largest glaciers and the world’s fastest-moving. A daily average of 20 m of ice is calved into the Ilulissat Icefjord, which counts among the planet’s most significant sources of icebergs.

Lightweight construction, aerodynamic shape
The new Icefjord Centre by Dorte Mandrup stands on a slight rise about 1 km south of the city centre. In 2016, the architect and her Copenhagen studio won the competition to plan the new building with a design whose lightweight construction and aerodynamic shape are more than mere aesthetic elements. The design was inspired by the wings of a snowy owl. Fifty-two steel frames carry the roof, façades and floor slabs of the new structure, which does not touch the ground apart from its concrete column foundations: this allows large amounts of springtime meltwater to flow unobstructed beneath the building. For the same reason, a wooden supporting structure was ruled out: all that water, and the constant change between freezing and thawing, would have overstrained that material. The streamlined shape is designed to prevent snowdrifts from forming against the façades or under the building. The centre is heated with electric infrared heating panels. This type of heating, which is generally quite inefficient, makes sense here: Ilulissat has a surplus of green energy from water power, and a heat pump was out of the question due to the permafrost and the low outdoor temperatures in the wintertime.

We feature this project in Detail 12.2021.

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