2015 AZ Awards Winner: Environmental Leadership Award

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A trio of students at the Technical University of Berlin, Sofia Ceylan, Katharina Laekamp and Leonie Otten have come up with Memory of the Arctic, a building that contains an archive of the changing permafrost.

In an age when melting ice caps have become inevitable, it is both tragic and necessary that efforts are underway, at least in theory, to preserve climatic records of the past hundreds of millennia. Sofia Ceylan, Katharina Laekamp and Leonie Otten, architecture students at the Technical University of Berlin, decided to site their concept for preserving ice cores in the North, intuitively grasping the irony of building an archive in the very place where the substance they hoped to preserve is quickly disappearing.

For thousands of years, annual snowfalls in parts of the world where there is no such thing as runoff have been compressed like fossils. Snowflakes are packed down until they turn to ice. Afterward, like digging into the recesses of a frost-clogged freezer, drilling through the strata becomes a journey through time. The resulting ice cores can tell stories of epochal changes in temperature and atmospheric gases.

Memory of the Arctic, then, is an archive of that history, built to maintain the permanence of permafrost; to do so, it would have to be a massive refrigerator. Instead of keeping out the cold, the archive draws it in with a coolant piped through rods that perforate the cylinder at the heart of the structure, located many metres underground. Thus, what the designers refer to as a “frozen soil corpse” guarantees the security of the encased ice cores.

Advent Fjord, located on the island of Spitz-bergen in the north of Norway, is the proposed site for this frigid library. While a circular structure sits above ground to mark the location, standing as an emblem for the project, the ice core library is contained within a shaft excavated through the underlying sandstone via drilling and explosives. Another irony to this project: the “out of sight, out of mind” blindness that led to global warming in the first place will be perpetuated in the depths of this isolated haven, where the fragile remnants of the storms that came before us will remain.

About the designers: Sofia Ceylan, Katharina Laekamp and Leonie Otten collaborated on Memory of the Arctic while studying for their master’s degrees at the Technical University of Berlin. The project was also named a finalist for the A+ Award for best student work.

What the jury said: What I love about this project is that it’s extremely seductive, yet it uses a toned-down, simple language – a marvellous piece of architecture that reflects its purpose and function.” – Brendan MacFarlane

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