06/07/2012 09:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Survival Architecture Workshop

By Alison Furuto
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© Nikita Wu

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.


© Nikita Wu

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.


© Nikita Wu

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.


© Nikita Wu

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.


© Nikita Wu

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.


© Nikita Wu

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.


© Nikita Wu

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.