Snøhetta has unveiled preliminary designs for The Arc, a proposed visitor center for Arctic preservation storage on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a remote island north of the Arctic Circle. Commissioned by Arctic Memory AS, the visitor center will provide a digital glimpse inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault — the world’s largest secure seed storage — as well as a look at the contents of the Arctic World Archive, a vault for preserving the world’s digital heritage. Powered by solar energy, The Arc will not only educate visitors about the importance of resource preservation but will also inspire a call to action on global warming.
Located in Longyearbyen, The Arc — named in reference to its location in the Arctic — will comprise two visually distinct volumes: an entrance building and an exhibition building. Built of cross-laminated timber and clad in charred wood and dark glass, the low-lying entrance building will house a lobby, ticketing, wardrobe and a cafe as well as facilities for the Arctic World Archive and technical rooms. The building will also be elevated off the ground to prevent heating of permafrost and snow accumulation, and it will be topped with rooftop solar panels.
In contrast to the dark entrance building, the exhibition building will be tall and conical with an all-white facade that looks as though it were formed by the forces of erosion. The exhibition building is connected to the entrance building via a glass access bridge that provides views of the towering geological formations to the south as well as a stunning landscape to the north.
The vertical vault of the exhibition building houses a powerful digital archive with permanent and temporary exhibits and an environment that mimics the experience of being inside one of the real vaults. Visitors can experience the vaults’ contents via wall projections managed with touchscreens, VR experiences and other physical and digital exhibit elements. At the heart of the vault is the ceremony room, a conditioned auditorium with a large deciduous tree symbolizing the vegetation that once grew on Svalbard millions of years ago when the temperatures were 5 to 8 degrees Celsius higher.
“At the current rate of carbon emissions, temperatures could rise high enough for a forest to grow again on Svalbard within only 150-200 years,” the architects said. “The tree in the ceremony room is both a symbol of the past and a call to action — a living icon for global warming and our responsibility to preserve the Arctic, and all of nature, for future generations.”
Images via Snøhetta and Plomp