Positive energy in the Far North

The world’s first energy-positive hotel, Svart, will be opening in the far north of Norway. It was designed by renowned Oslo architect firm Snøhetta.

06/08/2020 Text: Bernd Zerelles Photo: Plomp (Design: Snøhetta) Reading Time: 4 min

The ring-shaped Svart hotel stands half on land, half above the waters of the Holandsfjorden. The valley of the Svartisen glacier is visible in the background.

The Location

Mountains, ice, and sea come together in this magical spot to the north of the Arctic Circle. It’s located at the base of Svartisen, Norway’s second-largest glacier, which runs through the Meløy municipality in the Nordland province. Svart’s ring-shaped main body extends from the foot of the Almlifjellet mountain into the clear waters of the Holandsfjorden fjord. This unspoiled natural location is only accessible by water. A carbon-neutral boat shuttle will connect the hotel to the nearest city, Bodø.
 
“An architectural project in such a precious environment brings with it a clear responsibility to protect the site’s natural beauty and fauna and flora. We wanted to design a sustainable building that leaves only a minimal ecological footprint in this wonderful natural setting,” says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta. “Building an energy-positive hotel is a crucial step toward establishing a sustainable travel destination. The design respects the location’s unique features: the rare plant species, the clear waters, and the deep blue ice of the Svartisen glacier.”
 
The name Svart, which in Norwegian means black, pays direct tribute to the glacier (whose name translates as “black ice”).

Svart’s ring-shaped design gives a 360° view of the natural surroundings. The hotel will only use 15% as much energy as a comparable non-eco hotel built to modern construction standards.
Svart’s ring-shaped design gives a 360° view of the natural surroundings. The hotel will only use 15% as much energy as a comparable non-eco hotel built to modern construction standards.

The Idea

Svart will not only use 85% less energy than a comparable hotel built to modern construction standards, but will also generate its own energy, making it self-sufficient and sustainable. Before the project got underway, the Snøhetta architects conducted a detailed study of annual sunlight exposure at the location, which sits on the edge of a fjord sheltered by mountains. This study led to the hotel’s circular design.
 
The hotel rooms, restaurants, and terraces are strategically arranged to make optimum use of solar energy throughout the year. In summer, when the sun is high in the sky, the facades provide shade and mean there’s no need for air conditioning. During the winter months, when the sun is low in the sky, the large windows let through as much sunlight as possible in order to take advantage of the sun’s natural heat.
 
The hotel roof is clad with Norwegian solar panels, which are made using clean hydropower to further reduce the carbon footprint. Due to the long summer nights in northern latitudes, the hotel’s operating company hopes it will be able to harvest a lot of solar energy. The hotel also uses geothermal wells, which are connected to thermal pumps. These heat the building and reduce overall energy consumption. Energy-intensive building materials such as steel and concrete have been avoided wherever possible. Local wood is being used instead for the construction and cladding, helping to further reduce the building’s environmental footprint.

The hotel stands on wooden piles that have been driven into the bed of the fjord.

The Design

Svart’s ring-shaped design is supported by weather-resistant wooden piles, which extend several meters below the surface of the fjord. They not only give the building its transparent, floating appearance, but help ensure the construction site only has a minimal impact on nature. The architects were inspired by local building traditions, such as the rorbu, a traditional fishing cabin on stilts, and the fiskehjell, a structure for drying fish on which Svart’s A-shaped support beams are based. A wooden walkway rests on these beams, running between the water and the main body of the building. The structure is high enough that boats and other vessels can pass underneath – ideal for water sports enthusiasts.
 
The hotel, which will have over a hundred rooms, will be open to overnight guests, day visitors, and the local community. An on-site education and design lab will carry out further research on the hotel’s energy-saving measures. It’s also planned to operate a sustainable farm that will produce hyperlocal ingredients for the hotel’s four restaurants. Current estimates of when the project will be completed should be treated with caution, but the aim is to open Svart by 2023.

The hotel rooms on the inside of the ring face onto the water. A walkway resting on the piles runs underneath the rooms. From the walkway, guests can descend to a floating wooden platform.
The lobby of Oslo Opera House features extensive wood paneling.

For over 30 years, Snøhetta has been designing some of the world’s best-known public and cultural projects. The firm came to international fame in 1989 when it was awarded the commission to design the new library in Alexandria, Egypt. This was followed by further high-profile projects such as Oslo Opera House (see photo above) and the 9/11 Memorial Museum pavilion at the former site of the World Trade Center in New York. Snøhetta takes a transdisciplinary approach to all its projects, combining architecture, landscaping, and interior, graphic, and product design. The firm also designed Norway’s new banknotes. Snøhetta received the World Architecture Award for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Oslo Opera House. Since its completion in 2008, the opera house has won numerous accolades, such as the European Prize for Urban Public Space, the International Architecture Award, and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2010. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal named Snøhetta “Architecture Innovator of the Year.”

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