Scales of Nature - an architectural phenomenon

Simon Hellrigl
University of Innsbruck, Fakultät für Architektur, Innsbruck

Project idea

“Scales of Nature” is a project near a glacial lake called "Breiðárlón" in Iceland. The island made of ice and lava is located at the 65th parallel and has a multitude of natural phenomena to offer.
Geographically speaking Iceland stretches between the North Atlantic and the Arctic, embedded in the North Atlantic Ridge, a submarine mountain range. This geological formation is the source of Iceland's volcanic activity. Today many of the volcanoes are covered by glaciers. Some of them are active under the ice mass, which can lead to subglacial eruptions.The glacial landscape of Iceland reveals a fascinating and complex nature, characterized by a combination of geological, climatic and topographical influences. The ice masses are the result of thousands of years of accumulating snowfall and the slow compression of snow into ice. Iceland's icy landscape is characterized by deep glacier tongues, glacial lakes and moraines. Characteristic are glacial crevasses, which are formed due to the different speeds. The combination of pressure and meltwater forms a wide variety of caves and crevasses that complement the existing topography. Overall, the glacial landscape of Iceland illustrates the profound interaction between geological processes, climate change and the shaping of the landscape.The habitat of the population is mainly concentrated on the areas along the coasts. For them the geography is a formative factor for their way of life. Fishing, tourism and renewable energies, such as geothermal energy, form the economic pillars, while the isolation and rugged nature are shaping the cultural identity of Icelanders. “Scales of Nature” raises some questions. Is it found or man-made? Melted or grown? Ancient or new? The question of the origin and size of the architecture is one of the central considerations. Is the structure a natural part of the environment or was it deliberately constructed? If the latter is the case, the question arises of when it was created. Does it exist only for a short time or has it already existed for several millennia, slowly revealed by the melting of ice? In addition the structure captures the fascinating indeterminacy of the landscape, which in Iceland is characterized by a lack of clear scales. The size of the ice floes ranges from a few centimeters to several meters in height. The dominant white and the vast expanse of the landscape create an environment without clear classification. Everything appears the same and yet characterized by diverse individuality. Insimilarly, the project reinforces its own aura of mysticism due to the difficult-to-perceive dimensions.The question of the actual height of the building remains a mystery and the perception fluctuates between a few meters and possibly several hundred meters height. The project strives to highlight and depict the striking contrasts of the Icelandic nature and culture. Shaped by elemental forces, Iceland forms a catalyst of extremes. Fire and ice, desolation and liveliness, cold and heat, enormous glaciers and the threat of climate change...
It seems as if “Scales of Nature” is pointing out the contrast, it clarifies and celebrates. Highlighted by nature, but at the same time merged with the landscape. Interpenetrating but at the same time flowing into each other. The project strives to create tension by bringing the merging of different materials together, whereby the transitions are fluid and cannot be precisely defined. This highlights the constant change of the landscape, both through natural forces and human influences. The erosion of rocks by glaciers and the effects of tectonic plate shifts are made tangible. Elements that appear strange at first glance suddenly reveal common characteristics and create new properties and previously invisible references. Particular attention is paid to the integration of the glacial crevasses and the continuous changes to the landscape in a wide variety of forms. The project functions as a seamless continuation of its surroundings, but at the same time a foreign body that permeates the landscape. Through elements in the design that appear to have been created by man the project appears alien. Only with these objects the question arises as to whether the project is really part of the landscape.
This synthesis of blending and standing out characterizes the appearance of the building. The interior of the building houses several pools and rooms that utilize the geothermal energy of the land, transforming the structure into a bathhouse. Located directly on a hiking trail it offers passing hikers the opportunity to rest and relax. As if created by natural erosion the glacial structures reflect the beauty of the place. These approaches not only lend the architecture an aesthetic dimension, but also enable a profound experience and engagement with the extreme facets that characterize Icelandic nature and culture.

Project description

This project consists of severall interior pools, a salt grotto, cooling towers, a relax area, cave pool and the ice terrace before the main entrance.

Technical information

The constructions consists out of concrete, stone and ice. The transitions are fluent and can't be defined.


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