Even though it's one of the world's most exclusive lodgings, the Ice Hotel's clientele typically dresses for dinner in ski suits rather than evening clothes. The 4,000-sq.-m (43,056 sq. ft.) hotel, in the Swedish Arctic Circle town of Jukkasjarvi, is rebuilt each year toward the end of October, when temperatures drop to 3C below zero (26F), using the area's most easily found commodities - snow and ice.
For the fifth consecutive year, no less than 30,000 tons of snow were sprayed onto a special metal framework and the walls formed using 60cm (24") blocks of ice cut from the frozen Torme River, which is nearby. The pure, crystalline transparency of the ice is a wonderful medium for the hotel lighting, originally provided by candles, but now courtesy of halogen and fluorescent lamps, LEDs, and fiber optics.
The original design for the current lighting setup was by Stockholm-based LD Kai Piippo in 1998. It was intended to be as simple and unobtrusive as possible to maintain the enchanted feel of the setting and the contrast between light and darkness, warmth and cold. Although the design has been maintained, new lamps have been installed for a more eye-catching effect.
Bedroom lighting consists of Osram Lumilux fluorescent lamps with an orange filter under the beds (which are also made from ice blocks - so instead of normal bed linen, they come complete with reindeer skins and thick down sleeping bags). "These are ideal, as they give sufficient light, but don't produce much heat and have a long life," says US technician Mark Szulgit, who installs and looks after the hotel lighting and upgraded the system. "The more expensive rooms also have ice sculptures and bas-reliefs on the walls, lit by halogen lamps," says Szulgit. "This year we installed Osram's energy-saving Decostar IRC (Infra-Red Coating) lamps with transparent heat-reflecting coating, which we found ideal for rear-lighting the sculptures. The majority of the heat is reflected back, enabling gel filters to be inserted."
In the hotel's famous bar and restaurant, where you'll find Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Van Halen, and members of the Swedish royal family cooling their heels, fluorescent lamps with blue filters are used and the light dispersed upward toward the ceiling's vault. This same effect is used in the Ice Chapel, creating a truly heavenly atmosphere, with lamps behind the altar to add some subtly effective accent lighting. The finished chapel is formally handed over to Jukkasjarvi parish during the traditional Christmas service and is used for church services, christenings, and weddings until mid-April.
The lighting system's cabling is sunk into the ice in tubing in the walls and floors, an ideal solution, since snow ensures excellent insulation and the ice's temperature is always -5C (23F) or lower. But as a further precaution, the hotel installs circuit breakers that trip in a millisecond in the event of any problems.
Besides illuminating the exterior, halogen lamps are also used to illuminate the items on show in the Sculpture Gallery. Says Szulgit, "We don't normally put filters on these, as they catch the veins, cracks, and irregularities perfectly as they are, without any spill or dazzling."
To avoid problems with lamp heat in an environment made from ice, the fluorescent lamps are mounted on pieces of plywood slightly larger than the lamps themselves to prevent melting the ice and snow. The luminaires are positioned 30-60cm (12-24") above the snow on stretches of white interior cabling, which offer flexible but solid support, enabling light to be pointed exactly where it is required. Lighting also includes lengths of fiber optics which are fed into holes drilled in the ice; these eliminate lamp heat problems completely, as their illuminators can be placed at a safe distance.
The latest addition to the hotel's amenities is a large Art Center store with ice art, a slide show on an ice screen, and miniatures of past Ice Hotels. This year the Absolut Ice Bar (which can't serve beer, as it would freeze due to its low alcohol content, but does offer a Lapland berry drink in ice glasses) is open for business for the fifth time. Just like the Ice Hotel, it's never the same two years running; current features include a beautiful ice wall, crystal-clear ice pillars, and battery-operated LEDs mounted in portable sculptures and bar tables, to facilitate moving the items in question. Without a doubt - the world's coolest lighting system.