Local architect to help design ICEHOTEL

Robert Mechielsen will be heading to the Arctic Circle to help build the latest incarnation of the ICEHOTEL in Sweden. He will also present his ideas on environmentally sustainable building at a workshop, Zero Impact Malibu, on Nov.15.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Architect and designer Robert Mechielsen believes passionately in sustainable building, using environmentally friendly practices and recyclable materials such as reprocessed foam and even ice.

Mechielsen, a local resident, has been selected to join a prestigious, small group of artists to design this year’s ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, approximately 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The hotel, constructed entirely of ice blocks and impacted snow, is rebuilt every year in early December, houses guests in a toasty 25 degrees Fahrenheit (the hotel provides warm clothing) for a couple of months and then melts in April.

The Dutch-born architect acknowledged that there were certain design challenges in the work.

“It all must be approved by the Swedish Building Department so that even with the ice, snow and reindeer skins built into the design, it must be up to code,” he said.


Mechielsen has based his design this year on the principals of Roman arches. With a 2000-year established precedent, he said, “It should last until at least April.”

The ICEHOTEL Art & Design Group asks artists from around the world to submit design ideas, with plans made to spec, and selections are made from the most innovative.

“You use many of the principals of igloo construction,” Mechielsen said. “And with all these amazingly talented artists, the atmosphere is out of this world and totally non-competitive. We are here to create art.”

Consequently, the hotel is set in a forest of fantastic ice sculpture, as well as providing a haven in which to eat and sleep.

“The plates and cups in the restaurant are all made of ice, but it doesn’t stick to your fingers.”

Guests sleep on beds carved out of ice and loaded with reindeer skins in suites that are individually designed.

“The blocks of ice are cut from the Torne River nearby,” Mechielsen explained, “and the water is so cold that the ice blocks are completely transparent. We plumb them for electricity so the colored lighting from inside the ice blocks makes for very exciting effects in the rooms.”

Mechielsen employs chain saws and chisels with diamond blades to personalize the construction and characterization of each ice suite. The blocks of ice are glued together with a splash of warm water and, “if I want a really sharp or flat line to something, I use an iron,” he said.

The Discovery Channel and National Geographic are documenting this year’s ICEHOTEL construction.

More permanent housing solutions, however, are what inspire Mechielsen and his design company STUDIO-RMA; as long as they are part of an enviro-conscious solution to the planet’s depleting natural resources. In an effort to inform the public about sustainable building practices, he will be taking part in a Malibu Chamber of Commerce presentation next Wednesday entitled “Zero Impact Malibu.” This event, Mechielsen said, is designed to create awareness and “give people the tools, with exciting and practicable examples, of how home construction can be environmentally sustainable and doable now.”

The trick to “green-building,” he said, “is to blend the economic element with the social element and the ecological concern.”

The goal is to construct with a harmony of the natural setting, using materials that are easy on the earth.

Mechielsen wants to incorporate increasingly new and durable sustainable building ethics into all of his design work. He cited a home he built on the big island of Hawaii that “used principals developed for a European agro-business’ greenhouses.” After last month’s earthquake that damaged buildings all around the island, this house “had not one broken window,” he said. It was built with a material called SCIPS, or structural concrete insulation panels, which are made from a combination of recycled foam, recycled metal mesh and light concrete. SCIP-constructed homes are also designed to withstand earthquakes up to 8 on the Richter Scale, winds up to 200 mph winds and offer four hours of resistance to fire.

“This is at the forefront of building materials now,” Mechielsen said.

The Zero Impact Malibu workshop is free to the public and will take place Nov. 15 from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. at the Malibu Performing Arts Center. More information can be obtained by calling 310.456.9025.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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