Beautiful Buildings Made from Ice and Snow


Temperatures are dropping, which means most people are indoors staying warm. There are some designers, photographers, and insane creative types who are braving the chilly weather to construct unusual buildings made entirely from ice and snow. These ephemeral works of architecture are perhaps the greenest on the planet, melting silently into the earth when spring starts to approach. Other icy structures thrive amongst some of the coldest temperatures on the planet. It’s awe-inspiring to know that a substance like water can create something that feels so completely larger than life, making the organic buildings seem almost magical. We searched the globe for beautiful castles, hotels, and other buildings made from ice (inside and out). View more in our gallery.

Located in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of northern New Mexico at the center of the Enchanted Circle in Taos Ski Valley is The Celestial Sphere — a concert and performance hall made of ice. The venue even hosts performances featuring instruments made from ice. Carvers Tim and Birgitta Linhart created the igloo-style hall, complete with ambient lighting and lasers, to make their version of “a nightclub in heaven.”

Image credit: János Rusiczki

Hidden in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania (near southern Transylvania) is a church designed by Arnold Klingeis (it’s modeled after an an old Transylvanian Catholic church), who built the unusual house of worship with 30 workers over a one-month period. They used ice taken from the frozen Lake Balea. Everything from the altar to the relief carvings on the walls are created from ice and snow. There’s also a nearby ice hotel if you’re feeling extra frosty.

This ice palace in St. Petersburg, Russia is a copy of the original built in 1740 for Empress Anna Ioannovna, which included a garden filled with ice trees with ice birds, and furniture made from ice. Since then, residents have recreated the structure — the above palace made from over three tons of ice culled from the surrounding lakes.

This winter marks the twenty-third chilly season for guests at Sweden’s ICEHOTEL, located in Jukkasjärvi. It’s the first and largest ice hotel in the world, erected in the early 1990s. ICEHOTEL started life as an igloo to host an art exhibition, and a serendipitous overnight stay sparked an idea. Since then, creator Yngve Bergqvist has expanded the structure to a massive getaway that constantly changes thanks to guest artists — and the sun, of course. Ben Rousseau and Ian Douglas-Jones designed the room pictured above, in anticipation of Tron: Legacy in 2010.

The icy, gorgeous Hôtel de Glace in Quebec City transforms its design every season, creating an enchanting environment filled with artistic crystalline touches. Owners consider it their own unique work of art. The beds are crafted from a solid ice base with a wooden bedspring and mattress on top, covered in cozy blankets. Sleeping bags are still required to keep warm from the temperatures that dip to -22 degrees Fahrenheit. The view seems worth it.

Image credit: Li Jiqiu

Image credit: Li Jiqiu

Since 1963, people from all over the world have been attending the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China to see Harbin transformed into a dazzling, breathtaking ice city. Freezing Siberian winds make it the prime setting for the month-long celebration that features colorfully illuminated, full-scale buildings made from giant blocks of ice taken from the Songhua River.

Image credit: Axel

The internationally famous Saint Paul Winter Carnival started in the late 1800s, and the festival’s pièce de résistance is an elaborate, large-scale ice castle that uses ice from the Minnesota lakes.

Image credit: Øistad

Image credit: Øistad

A beautiful church in Aurskog, Norway.

Image credit: Studio Pirilö

Image credit: Atlas Obscura

The SnowCastle of Kemi is reconstructed every winter for the past 18 years. The new castle will open the end of January, 2013. Since natural snow is too soft to construct the LumiLinna SnowCastle, builders make snow out of seawater. The above photos give you an idea of what the bridal suit and dining room have looked like in the past.

We love the way Roger Hanson’s “Winter Water Wonder” castles look like Neolithic fragments lost in suburban Minnesota. He creates them using a geothermal heating system, sprinklers, and a computer program he designed that allows him to build ice castles up to 65 feet high.

An ice house from Swiss artist Karl Neuhaus that looks like a page from a fairy tale.

Image credit: Jeremy Peterson

Artist Brent Christensen began building his ice castles when trying to come up with new winter activities for his children. After a few snowy experiments, he created large structures that used icicles as the foundation. His children dubbed them “ice castles,” and since then, he’s been commissioned to create his frozen fortresses for resorts and other places across Colorado. Past castles have contained frosted tunnels, caves, slides, and ice skating rinks.