By Alison Furuto
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Led by environmental architect and anarchist, Marco Casagrande, representing the Aalto University Environmental Art Masters Program, students were to join in the creation of a nomadic city on the ice, both weathering and embracing the cold and wind, and alternating blizzards and slush over the course of ten days. There were twenty of them in total. In addition to Marco himself, his wife, Taiwanese journalist Nikita Wu, his long time friend Norwegian architect Hans-Petter Bjørnådal, Czech MA student and carpenter-extraordinaire Jan Tyrpekl, made up the organizational team. The Lapland native believes in an almost cruel method to his medium, where human intentions come naturally second to nature’s. It is with this in mind that one needs to approach his workshop on the frozen lake of Rössvatnet in subarctic Norway. More of the team’s description, by Guoda Bardauskaitė and Suzanne van Niekerk, on the workshop below.
A cross-disciplinary mix of environmental art, architecture, sociology and survival, The students were given a task to make a personal nomad shelter and collectively to build a movable Nomad Sauna on skies and an Aurora Observatory. Under the ice there were beautiful salmon related fishes – trout and arctic char. Local Knowledge was needed in order to get them up. The farmers around the lake were generous in helping the students and more than that curious to see if they could manage in the demanding Nordic winter conditions. For the course the survival was not enough – the students had to manage to construct in 1:1 scale and find beauty through their actions in the frozen environment.
The sixteen students of nineteen nationalities came from four universities and four different artistic disciplines: Environmental Art students from Aalto University in Helsinki, Sustainable Urban Design students from Lund University in Sweden, Architecture students from UEM in Madrid, Spain and one Fine Art student from Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany.
In the words of Casagrande, “survival is just the first step in discovering true beauty”. Together we were going to create, explained Marco over generous cups of Finnish vodka, a city of subtle proportions: a mobile city for nomads to respect and be humbled by nature. Individually, the students would make their own small ice fishing shelters come aurora observatories. And together we would create two key communal focal points: a large scale observatory and a sauna. As Marco liked to point out, a sauna is, simultaneously and contradictorily, both an indicator of civilization and a chance for humans to return to a more bass nature.
From the beginning the workshop was spontaneous and intuitive. The students were unaccustomed to each other, building processes and materials were unsecured, and we were camping in the local schoolhouse for the first two nights after our original accommodations fell through. Despite the circumstances though, there was an underlying sense of optimism present from day one. The workshop attracted a certain kind of spirit and without complaint we quickly came to appreciate the quirks of having a road kill for dinner, wearing garbage bags as rain protection without the slightest sense of irony, and the joy of merely being out of the wind, even while being completely soaked to the core.
This was also a workshop about doing. We were encouraged to lay down our pencils and start experimenting with structures. It was about self-discovery, and Marco left us to our own devices. If we needed a consultation, he could be found on the ice, quietly fishing. There was no lack of inspiration, though. There is a rich heritage present in the Sami culture, and many of the citizens of Hattfjelldal were keen to talk with us. Every evening around the fire Marco too would tell us tales of nomadic culture and myths and stories of his childhood. Perhaps the most prolific though was the influence from the nature, it affected both our design ideas and the development of our projects.
We experienced a massive range of weather conditions — from beautiful, clear sunny days with crisp snow underfoot, to sleet and hail, soggy snow, and powerful winds. With the former solid ice surface of the lake turning into a continuing series of thigh-high pools of slushy ice water, it took an afternoon to move the sauna a hundred or so meters from the shore on to the site. We had envisioned an easy and graceful move, hoping a helicopter pilot at the farm would transport it for us, dropping it into place without so much fuss. Of course, that was not going to happen, it took a combined effort of ingenuity and manpower of the entire group instead. And when it was finally settled, with the observatory in place next to it, we felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.