A visitor centre for Arctic preservation storage has been designed for Longyearbyen in the remote Norwegian island of Svalbard. It aims to showcase content from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – the world's largest secure plant seed storage – and the Arctic World Archive, a vault that aims to preserve the world's digital heritage.
Designed by Snøhetta Designs in two parts, the visitor centre will be called The Arc, referencing its location in the Arctic and its function as an archive for world memory. In collaboration with the Norwegian Natural History Museum, it will provide insights into how Svalbard's unique geology has transformed over millions of years. The entrance building contains the lobby, ticketing, wardrobe and a café, as well as production facilities for the Arctic World Archive and technical rooms. It is suspended off the ground to prevent heating of permafrost and accumulation of snow, and its roof areas are designed to accommodate solar panels for harvesting solar energy.
The contrasting design of the exhibition building gives it a unique shape, scale and spatial sequence. From the outside, it appears as a robust monolith and access to the building occurs across a glass bridge. The differing designs are designed to give visitors the experience of going from a familiar entrance into a real vault inside the permafrost of Svalbard. Inside the dramatic vertical vault of the exhibition building forms a powerful digital archive where both permanent and temporary exhibits are experienced first-hand.
From floorboards at the ground level, visitors can visually retrieve what is stored inside the Arctic World Archive and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Content stored in these vaults currently spans from Edvard Munch’s art collection and the Vatican’s 1500-year-old manuscripts, to film clips of the Brazilian football player Pelé and the largest collection of the world’s seeds. The vault is kept at 4° Celsius and has muted lighting to further amplify the experience of being inside one of the real vaults. The vaults’ content can be experienced through projections on the walls, managed by touch screens, VR experiences and other physical and digital exhibit elements, developed in close collaboration with the storytelling agency Tellart.
The Arc aims to educate visitors and inspire innovative preservation solutions for the world’s food and digital resources. It emphasises the value of the unique climatic and political stability one finds beyond the Arctic Circle in the permafrost of Svalbard, serving as a reminder of how we should take care of the world’s resources for future generations to come.
While still at the design stage, it is hoped that this project will be built and will open in 2022.