Northern Exposure

In Norway's remote north, this research centre responds to challenging conditions.



78 | 12 long section

Even by Scandinavian standards, the Svalbard archipelago is challengingly remote. Over 600km north of the Norwegian mainland, the islands' glacier-scored landscape is frozen solid to a depth of 500m and temperatures plummet to "SO deg C in winter. The upside of this inhospitability are rich deposits of coal that attracted Russian and Swedish mining operations in the first half of the twentieth century. But with the decline of the coal industry, Svalbard is now looking to encourage a more diverse economy of adventure tourism and scientific research.

This centre for atmospheric and environmental research is in Spitsbergen, the largest island in the archipelago (and also the only inhabited one). Designed by Jarmund Vigsnaes, the centre was the outcome of a competition. Having previously built an HQ for the governor of Svalbard, Jarmund Vigsnss were familiar with the archipelago's formidable terrain and climate.

Clad in a highly insulated copper skin, the centre is a humped, topographic presence in the bleak landscape. Though fashionably angular, the geometry was modelled on flows of wind and snow raking across the site and helps to mitigate snow buildup over doors and windows. To prevent heat from the building melting the permafrost and causing subsidence, the centre sits on an elevated raft with a ventilated airspace underneath it.

As the centre's users will be spending a great deal of time indoors, they need to feel at ease with their surroundings. The copper skin conceals and protects a pine-lined, humanly-scaled maze of internal streets, offices and laboratories that offers spatial incident and variety. Jurors were impressed by the response to such challenging conditions and how the architecture was literally yet creatively shaped by context. C. S.

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