Gaudí’s uncompleted masterpiece will finally be finished—in ice


The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí would have turned 162 last week, but his peculiar Gothic surrealism is once again contemporary, seen in the creeping organic forms of today’s computer-assisted starchitects. The Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona was his masterpiece, even though it was less than a quarter finished when he was struck and killed by a tram in 1926. Current plans to complete it set the end date at 2026 or 2028, depending on whom you ask.

A group of students at the Eindhoven University of Technology are trying to build a new, temporary version of the monumental church well before then, but with some notable differences. At just over 123 feet tall, their Sagrada Familia will be a 1:4 model of the original. It will be erected on a site in Finland, almost 2,000 miles north of Barcelona. It will take them three weeks to build it this winter, rather than a century. And instead of stone, it will be constructed out of ice.

The Basilica Sagrada Familia designed by architect Antoni Gaudi is illuminated during the "Montreal Signe Ode a la Vie" light show by Canadian company Moment Factory as part of the Merce Festival in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Familia is still on ice. AP Photo/Manu Fernandez.

Or, to be specific, it will be made from Pykrete—a super-strong mix of ice and wood pulp that was briefly considered by the Allies as a building block for ships during World War II, when steel reserves were low. The mixture is as strong as concrete, bulletproof, and melts very slowly.

Those properties make it an interesting building material in a place like Juuka, Finland, where winter temperatures range from -22° to 5° Fahrenheit. Juuka is where, last year, another group of Eindhoven students built what was then the world’s largest ice dome. They used the same method that the team of Gaudí acolytes will try in December: spraying thin layers of snow and pykrete on top of inflatable molds, then removing the balloons from under the ice.

Finland, Juuka, 18-01-2014: De grootste ijskoepel ter wereld met een doorsnede van 30 meter is geopend.
Een geschatte 1500 - 2000 bezoekers wonen de opening bij. Lange rijen staan geduldig te wachten voor een bezoek in de koepel. De rij blijft zeker 4 uren in stand. 
De koepel, PykreteDome genaamd, is gebouwd door studenten van de Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, vrijwilligers, vrienden, familie, en met enorme medewerking van de gemeente Juuka. 
Door water met toegevoegde houtvezels (pykrete) te spuiten over een opblaasbaar membraan (ballon) werd de structuur verstrekt. 
Deze vorm van versterkte ijsbouw, vergelijkbaar met de uitvinding van gewapend beton, maakt nieuwe toepassingen en nieuwe vormen mogelijk voor tijdelijke ijsbouw. / 

Finland, Juuka, 18-01-2014: The largest icedome in the world with a span of 30 meters is opened.
An estimated 1500-2000 visitors are there to witness the opening. Long lines wait patiently for a visit inside. De line holds for at least 4 hours.
De PykreteDome was build by students of Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands, and by friends, family, and with enormous support from the community of Juuka.
For structural strength woodfibers (pykrete) are added to the icewater that has been sprayed in layers over an inflatable membrane (balloon).
This sort of strengthened iceconstruction makes new possibilities and new shapes for temporary iceconstructions possible.

Inside last winter’s Pykrete Dome, in Juuka, Finland. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke.

The biggest challenge facing the team could be climate change. Construction on last year’s ice dome was delayed by an unusually warm December. The team will be in trouble if mild temperatures prevail again this winter, according to Arno Pronk, the Eindhoven professor who heads the project. “If the weather is the same as last year, we’ll never be able to do it,” he says. To prepare for this possibility, they’re taking an artificial-snow machine with them.

Rendering of a pykrete version of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia
A rendering of the Sagrada Familia in Ice at night
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