A trip to the Arctic is a trip of a lifetime. With vast ice-decked landscapes and spectacular midnight sun, this remote part of the world satisfies every adventurer’s thrill of the next best quest. While the snow-capped region is one of the coldest on Earth, Arctic Architecture is rapidly heating up this stretch of the world. Case in point is The Arc, a visitor centre for Arctic Preservation Storage located in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 78° north of the Earth’s equator, as recently unveiled by Snøhetta. Set for completion in 2022, the project was commissioned by Arctic Memory AS with the aim to develop a unique visitor and experience centre in this northern part of the world.
Educating locals and visitors through unique digital experiences, the foundation focuses on Svalbard’s global significance in conservation and preservation of the Norwegian archipelago. As the Arctic terrain has been transformed and preserved for over hundreds of millions of years to form its unique geology today, The Arc will showcase content from both the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – the world’s largest secure seed storage, and the Arctic World Archive – a vault that preserves the world’s digital heritage.
Clad in burnt wood and dark glass panels, the entrance building – rational and stoic in style – will house visitor functions including a café as well as production facilities for the Arctic World Archive and technical rooms. Meanwhile, a second monolithic form, containing temporary and permanent exhibits, sits in stark contrast with the former, which is designed as a timeless, scale-less structure that feels both familiar yet otherworldly. To reach the exhibition space, a glass access bridge takes visitors from the entrance to the exhibition building, nature unfolding its picturesque beauty with each step.
Inside, Snøhetta created a vertical vault where the exhibits can be experienced. Including a vast range of content that spans from Edvard Munch’s art collection to the Vatican’s 1500-year-old manuscripts to the largest collection of the World’s seeds, visitors will be able to visually retrieve the vast content stored inside of the Arctic World Archive and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault from floorboards at the ground level. To amplify the unique Arctic adventure, touch screens, VR experiences and other digital exhibit elements, all developed in close collaboration with storytelling agency Tellart, enhances the visitor experience through diverse physical elements.
Contemplation and reflection are encouraged at the ceremony room, a conditioned auditorium at the heart of the vault, providing a space for digital projections, informative lectures and must-see talks. While the warm wood interior is juxtaposed with a darker wood trim on the outer shell, besides the contrasting colours, the egg-shaped structure stands as a thought-provoking symbol of time; mainly, the vegetation that has previously grown on Svalbard, including leaf fossils of both ancient tress like Ginko and the more well-known deciduous kind have been found to date back to more than 200 million years.
While birch, elm and chestnut grew here 56 million years ago when the temperature was 5-8° Celsius higher, today, and at the current rate of increasing carbon emissions, temperatures could rise high enough for a forest to grow again on Svalbard within only 150-200 years. An emblem of the past and a call to action at present, the tree placed at the heart of the ceremony room, serves as a painful reminder of the devastating effects of global climate change, but also as a message of hope.
Encouraging education for sustainable development and inspiring innovative preservation solutions for the world’s food and digital resources, The Arc highlights the importance of resource management and taking care of our planet for future generations to come.
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