Snøhetta's monolithic, organic Arctic visitor centre houses temperature-controlled exhibition vault
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Snøhetta's monolithic, organic Arctic visitor centre houses temperature-controlled exhibition vault

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Snøhetta have designed a visitor centre for Arctic preservation storage called The Arc with an exhibition building that is towering and monolithic, but also curved and organic.

The facility was commissioned by Arctic Memory AS to showcase content from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the Arctic World Archive, as well as to educate visitors and inspire innovative preservation solutions for the world's food and digital resources.

Located 78° north of the Earth's equator in Longyearbyen, a town in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, the visitor centre comprises two contrasting buildings that are linked by a glass bridge.

The exhibition building takes the form of a tall, circular tower that tapers towards as it rises. It is designed to give visitors the sense of entering a vault that is built into the permafrost.

Describing the structure, Snohetta said: "The exhibition building expresses a unique shape, scale and spatial sequence, designed as a timeless, scale-less form that is both familiar and otherworldly at the time.

"From the outside, the exhibition building appears as a robust monolith – its outer surface formed by the erosion of the site's unique and often extreme weather conditions. It may also resemble an organic form drilled out of the ground, exposing the stratification of the Earth’s surface."

Inside, temporary and permanent exhibits are displayed in a temperature-controlled vault. There is also a conditioned auditorium for displaying digital projections, as well as hosting deposit ceremonies, lectures and talks.

The auditorium has a bright wooden interior and is designed around the feature element of a deciduous tree, which represents the vegetation that grew in the region millions of years ago and that may grow again within only 150-200 years if carbon emissions continue to cause global warming at the current rate.

The smaller entrance building is a conventional cuboid that is raised off the ground on stilts to prevent the heating of permafrost and the accumulation of snow.

Its roof is designed for the installation of solar energy to generate power and it houses a lobby, ticket facilities, a cloakroom, a café, technical rooms and production facilities for the Arctic World Archive.

The building aesthetic mixes burnt wooden cladding with dark glass panels, while inside there are exposed wooden elements.

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