Arrival by Jonathan Green

And the Making of the Icehotel 29

The day of departure for Sweden has finally arrived. After a flight from London to Stockholm, and then Stockholm to Kiruna, we are driven to the IceHotel in Jukkasjärvi.

We see the building site for the first time, and take in the enormity of the project ahead of us.

In April 2018, our design was selected for the IceHotel 29. I am travelling with my 19 year old daughter Marnie, an art student, to Jukkasjärvi, where we will single-handedly create our vision out of ice and snow.


Our Art Suite by Jonathan Green

Day 1

We finally get to see our room. It’s a bespoke casting, with 1m thicker walls than normal to allow us to carve the elements out of the ceiling and walls.

This means a ton of snow removal before we can even start to find the forms. Its very physical work, made all the more harder by the unusually warm conditions of +4 degrees, which impacts heavily on the building project, as snow and ice begins to melt.

These are potentially disastrous conditions for the Hotel, so late in the season.

A normal sized room casting

A normal sized room casting

Our room

Our room

Day 2 by Jonathan Green

The start of our first full day of work, and temperatures reach a near disastrous +4 degrees C.

Although its more pleasant to work in, everything is starting to melt. The ‘Snice’ becomes wet and then re-freezes when the temperature drops, turning it more icy, and therefore harder to work with. It becomes rock hard, and starts to change colour to off-white.

This rise in temperature also stops any further building of the IceHotel structure, which puts a lot of pressure on the Building Team.

The mood within the team is definitely more sombre, but we all know the temperature will drop tomorrow, if the forecasts are correct.

For now, we’re marking out where the whale will be, and start to carve its outline. It’s incredibly hard physically, working over your head, and being so close to the subject that it’s impossible to see the form clearly.

We knew this part would be hard, but neither of us had quite foreseen just how demanding ceiling work would be. Digging out over your head, being showered with wet cold snow, and having to jump down from the tower every few minutes to see what you’d done. Quite exhausting.



No time to rest by Jonathan Green

Since arriving, we have worked solidly every single day. We don’t even stop for breaks, apart from lunch and dinner (or the odd 2 minute chocolate break for energy).

There’s a certain amount of time pressure, because there is no option but to finish on time, but we feel confident we’re making progress, and we absolutely love it. We are both in our element, and are so excited to be here working alongside so many talented artists from around the world.

It’s just the most fantastic experience, that we just keep on going without stopping.

A room with a view by Jonathan Green

Because we have so much snow to excavate, we were given one of the outer rooms, with our back wall missing until nearer completion.

This makes for easy snow removal, and easy ice delivery, but the downside being that you are completely open to the elements. With an average -12 C temperature, and a freezing wind chill from the snow cannons working just outside, it does make for pretty brutal conditions.

BUT…we were gifted the opportunity to see the sunrise and sunset every day between around 09:30 and 12:30pm and were treated to some stunning views, which made it all worthwhile.

Some days we worked all day and felt like we'd achieved nothing by Jonathan Green

The mid-build slump was a very real thing for us.

There were days (particularly when it was -22) when we’d feel like we had worked continuously, but had nothing to show for it.

It was pretty demoralising, especially in the brutal cold, but you had to dig deep, and push forward, knowing the deadline was moving ever closer.

The changing conditions brought about subtle changes in the ice and snow and snice, or snis (pronounced ‘sneess’ if you’re from Sweden). It’s incredible how the materials change their quality when the temperature drops. Ice blocks can literally shatter when you work on them because the point at which you’re chiselling or chain-sawing has a greater temperature difference than the surrounding ice and air. The colder it gets, the more things change, and the harder it is to work, especially if your gloves or clothes get wet.

Ice is the most glorious material to work with. We both fell in love with it, to the point where we still both miss touching it and working with it. For a sculptor, it is the ultimate material. Strong, but soft, with sharp tools.

Gliding a sharp chisel over an ice block is one of the most satisfying feelings ever. And the ice from the Torne River is as clear as glass.

Ice shark by Jonathan Green

One of our main features, was a shark that appears to be breaking out of the wall.

It started life as a huge block of ice 1m thick by 2m long, embedded in the walls for stability.

IMG_0994 (1).jpg

Snow whale by Jonathan Green

Our hardest feature was without doubt the whale.

The whale had to be carved out of the ceiling so that it was part of the room structure, to make it safe.

We wanted to give the guests a view of a whale and its calf gliding overhead whilst laying in bed, but it gave us a huge amount of work to achieve.

However difficult it was, it was completely worth it, but surprising how many visitors walk in to the room, and don’t look up.

In my mind you would walk into the room and see the whales eye looking down at you at the door, but I guess people’s first reaction is to want to look at whats immediately in front of them.

We didn’t mind though. We always wanted people to discover things as they looked around, to keep finding things they hadn’t seen before.

Nearing completion by Jonathan Green

The deadline approaches, and we put in a few days that finish around 2am.

On our penultimate day, we get a bit of extra help from the amazing support team, which ensures we’ll be done in time without too much stress. Although we planned on doing the entire room alone, we were hugely grateful for the extra help to save us having to work through the night.

The Support Team are invaluable, especially for first timers like us. They are an amazing bunch of skilled, artistic people and the IceHotel would not happen without them. Shout out to the incredible Luca Roncoroni, Elisabeth Kristensen, Dave Ruane, Vytautus Musteikis and Henrik Spett.

We also spend our final 2 days working alongside the Lighting Team, (Olaf, Haennes and Helena) who literally bring the room to life. Having spent two weeks looking at the room under the un-flattering working light, our room is transformed by their masterful placing of LED lights and coloured gels. All the cables get buried in the walls, and covered over with snice, so it all looks invisible.

Finally, the IceHotel official photographer Asaf Kliger, creates a masterpiece for all the world to see.

It’s a huge team effort that is a delight to behold. Everybody helps each other in our joint goal to create the best Ice Hotel suites possible.

On the final day, at 6pm, we all take part in an emotional Vernissage, where each artist speaks to the group about their room before we all walk around and look at people’s work. Everybody has put their heart and soul into their rooms, and it shows. We are all cold and exhausted, but it has been the most incredible privilege, to work alongside such talented and wonderful people from all around the world, creating art in the most magical place.

All of this is down to the vision of the legendary Arne Bergh, who has been in charge of the IceHotel for almost all of it's 29 year life.

The photos don’t quite do it justice, so if you ever get the chance to head to Northern Sweden, try to spend a couple of days at the IceHotel, Jukkasjärvi. It is truly magical.

The Living Ocean Suite 217 from start to finish in 13 days

And relax..... by Jonathan Green