Postcard from Ilulissat #2: The Icefjord Centre takes shape

Share on:

We gathered for kaffemik and ground-breaking when the summer sun was still shining on the Sermermiut Valley. Almost four months have passed, and autumn has changed the green landscape into a palette of orange, brown and red. While the temperatures have dropped, the contours of the new building have quickly taken shape in the rough landscape.

A boomerang blending in

On the 1st of July, the first steel frames were mounted on the rocks by the Ilulissat Icefjord. Hundreds of tons of steel and hours of hard work later, the last steel frame was placed on the 25th of September at 13:58. A total of 52 steel frames, each weighing 7.093 kilos, make out the structure of the Icefjord Centre now rising above the valley. Recently the glass façade was mounted, and the Icefjord Centre is quite literally taking shape.

The aerodynamic form is designed to minimize snow build-up while framing the views towards to fjord. By inviting visitors on to the roof, it becomes a natural extension of the UNESCO World Heritage Trail.

When looking at the Icefjord Centre from a distance, the steel and glass blend smoothly into the landscape. An inland lake reflects the building and underlines the symbiosis between the centre and the harsh yet beautiful surroundings.

"When you visit Ilulissat and see the site with your own eyes, it becomes very clear that we're building in an environment and climate that is incredibly beautiful, fragile and fierce at the same time. The climate crisis has become a part of everyday life at Greenland, and the Icefjord is essential for understanding this crisis. An understanding, which the Icefjord Centre will help support," says Kasper Pilemand, Associate Partner at Dorte Mandrup

Curvy complexity

It is not only the harsh and fast-changing weather that challenges the construction of the Icefjord Centre. Its geometry is challenging in itself. The geometric difference between each steel frame creates a naturally evolving inner shape and a double-curved roof, allowing visitors to walk over it and unto the paths leading into the UNESCO protected area. In order to create the curvature, every steel frame has a unique geometric shape, and the windowpanes all incline differently on the façade.

Due to the complexity of the building design and the remote location of the Icefjord Centre, everything has been prepared carefully in 3D in close cooperation between architects, engineers, and manufactures. If a steel frame doesn’t fit, it isn’t possible to just make or ship a new one. When winter sets in, pack ice might force the harbor to close, and temperatures dropping far below zero make the construction process quite different than usual.

“It has been an exciting project because of the conditions, we’re building in. They have been very complex“ says Jacob Juel, Constructing Architect at Dorte Mandrup. “And after years of designing, calculating and preparing, it is incredible to see the building emerge in a few months,” he adds.

This week the topping-out ceremony marked the last weeks of construction before winter arrives in Ilulissat. Temperatures will quickly drop far below zero, and the work will have to be put on hold until the sun returns, and the Sermermiut Valley again turns green.

In April 2020, the work will commence for a new summer period, and the centre is expected to open in Spring 2021. Read more about the project in the previous post: Postcard from Ilulissat #1: The Icefjord Centre takes off and on the project page.

The Icefjord Centre is funded by a partnership between Realdania By & Byg, the Government of Greenland, and Avannaata Municipality and is one out of five Dorte Mandrup projects on UNESCO protected sites.

The other four count the Wadden Sea Centre in Ribe, the Wadden Sea World Heritage Centre in Groningen, the Trilateral Wadden Sea World Heritage Partnership Centre in Wilhelmshaven, and the Karlskrona Culture House and Library in Karlskrona.