Intricate Ice Architecture: 17 Fantastic Frozen Buildings

While you put the finishing touches on a lopsided snowman in your front yard, ice and snow artists around the world build life-sized ice castles, hotel rooms made of packed snow, and delicate ice sculptures stretching dozens of feet into the air. Illuminated at night, these amazing temporary structures built in some of the world’s coldest places each year look like something out of a winter fairy tale.

Hotel de Glace, Quebec

The only true ice hotel in North America, Hotel de Glace opens each January with a new theme. In early 2013, that theme was “A Journey to the Center of Winter,” inspired by the Jules Verne novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It had 44 guest rooms as well as a spa, restaurant, chapel and a bar made of ice.

China Snow World Festival

Incredible replicas of Renaissance architecture, classic Russian architecture and other impressive structures are recreated at China’s Jingyue Snow World Festival each year. While not quite life-sized, this ice and snow architecture often reaches heights of thirty to forty feet. They’re hand-carved using low-tech tools.

Castles at Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan

For just seven days each February, millions of visitors gaze upon intricately carved ice architecture and other large-scale sculptures for the Sapporo Snow Festival on the streets of Sapporo City. More than 10 teams compete in the International Snow Statue Contest to build structures reaching 50 feet tall and 150 feet wide, including life-sized dinosaurs. The largest structures can cost up to $100,000 to create, so they’re typically sponsored by countries or corporations.

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, China

Harbin, China transforms into an ethereal showcase of ice architecture and sculptures illuminated in bright colors each January. The annual festival began as a traditional ice lantern garden party in 1963 and is now the largest snow and ice festival in the world, taking over virtually the entire city, with a unique theme each year.

Winter Carnival Ice Castle, Minnesota

Elaborate ice castles are among the frozen wonders on display each year at the Winter Carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota. The tradition goes all the way back to 1886, when the first winter festival was held to celebrate the character and strength of the city and its people after a New York reporter wrote that St. Paul was “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation.”

Lumi Linna Ice Hotel, Finland

The Lumilinna SnowCastle in Kemi, Finland is open from late January through mid April each year, and includes a hotel with 18 regular rooms, family rooms for groups up to five, and a honeymoon suite. Better bundle up – the temperature hovers at a constant 23 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s also an adventureland for kids, a theater, ice art gallery, restaurant and ice chapel.

IceHotel, Sweden

This year’s iteration of the IceHotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden has an especially fun theme: ‘It’s Alive!‘, a tribute to Frankenstein designed by Christian Strömqvist and Karl-Johan Ekeroth. This special art suite is just one of many themed rooms at the hotel, which is also home to the Absolut Icebar.

Vintage Ice Structures by Heinz Isler

How is it possible to make an ice structure that’s over a dozen feet tall, yet only a few millimeters thick? Swiss engineer Heinz Isler hung nets, cloth, balloons and strings from trees, supported them with rods and then sprayed them with water. Once the supporting structures were removed, these fragile and dreamlike structures  became free-form shells of ice.

Ice House of Detroit

A blight of an abandoned house – one of many, sadly, in the city of Detroit – became a work of art when two Brooklyn artists blasted it with water in freezing winter temperatures, turning it into an ice sculpture. The project had to be carried out quickly, before warm days could melt the ice, and required continuously spraying it with water throughout the night during the coldest days of winter. Of the decision to use ice, artist Matthew Radune says, “In the end it was also an ecological decision. The ice would disappear after the project was complete, leaving no waste for us to dispose of.”

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