Commissioned by Olav Olsen upon request from Statsbygg, Snøhetta has designed an expansion of Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault.
Way up north, in the permafrost, 1300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle, is the home to the world's largest secure seed storage, opened by the Norwegian Government in February 2008. From across the globe, crates of seeds are sent here for safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults. The vault holds the seeds of many tens of thousands of varieties of essential food crops such as beans, wheat and rice. In total, the vault now holds seeds of more than 4000 plant species.
The expansion is a service building designed by Snøhetta, intended to facilitate the process of the registration and shipment of the seeds before they are placed securely in the halls of the seed vault.
Office facilities have been installed to cater for the administration staff, as well as storage rooms for any technical equipment that exceeds heat and could potentially affect the permafrost on the ground.
The shape is designed to be as flat as possible to ensure it doesn’t disrupt the surrounding scenery, while still being distinctive and natural in its expression. The material used is black steel, which eventually will transform into a rusty red as the building ages and the surrounding weather conditions will impact its external aesthetics. Allowing the black steel to turn to a rusty red over time symbolizes how the surrounding scanty landscape with little colors and vegetation changes with the seasons, where the minimal vegetation that grows there, occasionally adds small pops of color.
Built on heavy steel poles, the building rests on a solid foundation mounted to the ground to ensure it doesn’t get disrupted by the permafrost. Each spring, the first two meters of permafrost melts, creating forces similar to a powerful river, and the poles ensure that the pressure from these forces keeps the building steady and secure.
The windows are shaped to frame the outside scenery and create the notion of being outdoors, while still watching it from the inside of the building. A large window towards the seed vault has been installed to allow the people who have come to store their seeds away, to get a detailed view of where they’re going.