Postcard from Ilulissat #4: The Icefjord Centre prepares to open

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In the infinite Arctic landscape. Surrounded by unforgiving wind, snow, and ice. On the edge of the UNESCO-protected Greenlandic wilderness. Here levitates the Icefjord Centre slightly over the magnificent, rugged terrain. It is now two years since we gathered for Kaffemik and groundbreaking on the outskirts of Ilulissat. Countless hours of intense work in complex conditions have passed. Now, the final wooden panels are being laid on the gently sloping, curved boardwalk. 

In just a few months the Icefjord Centre will open its doors to the first visitors. In the middle of the beautiful Kangia Icefjord, where the icebergs are breaking away from the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, the centre will be a vantage point from which to absorb and understand the historic atmosphere of the icefjord and the dramatic consequences of climate change. 

Shaped by extreme conditions
The extreme Arctic climate with its freezing temperatures and harsh wind outline design and function. Described like “a snow owl’s flight through the landscape”, the aerodynamic, light structure of the Icefjord Centre sculpturally anchors the building in the landscape while reducing snow build-up and creating refuge from the freezing winds.

“The Icefjord Centre is defined by the unique conditions that characterize the dramatic and distinctive Arctic scenery. We have designed a building that aims to become a natural gathering point. A shelter in the landscape and gateway between civilization and wilderness. From here you will be able to experience the infinite, non-human scale of the surroundings, the migration between darkness and light, the midnight sun, and the Northern Lights dancing across the sky,” says Dorte Mandrup.

At the very first glimmer of sunlight on the horizon in January, the Icefjord Centre establishes a focal point for locals to meet to celebrate the end of complete darkness. Created like a natural extension to the hiking routes, the building provides an opportunity to venture over the arched wooden roof – making it part of the landscape and the trail following the shores of the icefjord. A spectacular scene of mountains, sea and dramatic traveling Iceberg plays out right in front of you. 

A foundation for understanding
The Kangia Icefjord is one of the few places in the world where the drama of climate change visible unfolds. Standing on 4000 years of cultural heritage, the Icefjord Centre tells the story of ice, human history, and evolution - locally and globally. It is essential for understanding the climate crises. 

Inside, the exhibition is underway. With ice as a common thread, three paths will guide the visitors through the exhibition space, adding new aspects to their understanding of landscape, culture, and climate. The Icefjord Centre is an important part of Greenland’s goal to provide and promote knowledge about the remarkable natural and cultural history and support a positive development within the local community.

“Ilulissat Icefjord Centre plays an important role in the effort to develop sustainable tourism in balance with the unique, vulnerable eco-system. It contributes to the understanding of nature’s grandeur. Not just for visitors to the centre but also later for schoolchildren in Greenland and the rest of the world through its digital universe. Few places in the world offer such a powerful illustration of the interconnected quality of our planet as a single unified system in constant state of change,” says Hjörtur Smárason, CEO of Visit Greenland.

Photos: Realdania & Dorte Mandrup A/S

The Icefjord Centre is funded by a partnership between the philanthropic association Realdania, the Government of Greenland, and Avannaata Municipality. It is one out of four Dorte Mandrup projects on UNESCO protected sites.

The other three count the Wadden Sea Centre in Ribe, the Wadden Sea World Heritage Centre in Groningen, and the Trilateral Wadden Sea World Heritage Partnership Centre in Wilhelmshaven.