About Us

We are a research group from Eindhoven University of Technology
focusing on composite ice materials and ice constructions.
In the past, we have areadly successfully finished four big ice
projects, of which the largest ice dome and tallest ice tower in
the world. This winter, we are building the first printed grid
shell dome in the world at the Harbin Ice Festival, in cooperation
with Harbin Institute of Technology.


There has been a long tradition in making ice structures, but the development of technical improvements for making ice buildings is a new field with just a handful of researchers. Most of the projects were realized by professors in cooperation with their students as part of their education in architecture and civil engineering. The following professors have realized ice projects in this setting: Heinz Isler realized some experiments since the 1950s; Tsutomu Kokawa created in the past three decades several ice domes in the north of Japan with a span up to 25 meters; Lancelot Coar realized a number of fabric formed ice shell structures including fiberglass bars and hanging fabric as a mould for an ice shell in 2011 and in 2015 he produced an fabric-formed ice origami structure in cooperation with MIT (Caitlin Mueller) and VUB (Lars de Laet). Arno Pronk et all realized several ice projects such as the 2004 artificially cooled igloo, in 2014 and 2015 dome structures with an inflatable mould in Finland and in 2016 one ice dome and two ice towers in Harbin (China) as a cooperation between the Universities of Eindhoven & "Leuven (Pronk) and Harbin (Wu and Luo).

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Ice structures in the past

The part below will give a short summary of the most important ice projects/structures in the past. The oldest “ice” structures known are igloo’s made from snow blocks. They are shaped like a cate-noid to avoid tensile stresses. The gaps in between the blocks are filled with snow. The heating in the igloo will melt the inner surface of the igloo. Later this melting water will freeze again making a layer of ice. The layer of ice formed at the inside of the igloo will make it a continues structural shell and contributes to the strength of the igloo.

A Japanese variant of the igloo is the Japanese “Kamakura”. A ”Kamakura” is a Japanese traditional snow hut, which has been built since the beginning of the 20th century. The snow hut is formed by digging out snow from a small pile of natural wet snow. The Kamakura is usually constructed with uncompacted snow, resulting in small dimensions because of the low mechanical properties (Kokawa T. 2002).

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Based on the knowledge and experience with snow structures snow hotels have been developed for commercial exploration. Most ice hotels are constructed using a patented arched steel mould with a height up to 5 m and a span of 6 m. Multiple moulds are connected to create a long tunnel. At first natural snow was used to create the snow walls of the structure, but later the construction material was replaced by artificial snow. Special wet snow, called “Snice”, is sprayed on the mould using front loaders, snow canons, snow blowers and snow throwers.

Heinz Isler (1926-2009) used natural forms as a reference for his designs. Isler is mostly known for his thin shell structures, where he used the physical principles of nature as his starting point. He made ice structures by spraying water on fabrics or inflatables in winter at low temperatures. By applying multiple layers of water, a shell structure was formed with a thickness of only a few millimeters. (Chilton J. 2012)

In the north of Finland, Matti Orpana developed a method for creating igloo-shaped ice hotels with a span and height of 15 m. They were the biggest one-surface igloos made with an inflatable mould. The vertical section of the igloo is formed like a catenary. The inflatable is covered with ice or snow. In ice the wall thickness at the foundation is approximately 900 mm and in snow the walls are about 3000 mm thick.

In September 2004 Pronk et al. made an igloo for a business fair in Amsterdam. The igloo was made at an air temperature of 20°C. 2000 meter of ducts were wound around the inflatable mould to create a grid of ducts with a spacing of 5 cm. The ducts where connected to a cooling device filled with water-glycol with a temperature of -12° C. The ducts were sprayed from the outside with a fog of water after the forming of the ice shell at the outside the inflatable was removed and the ducts where sprayed on the inside of the igloo. (Pronk et al., 2005)

Many projects were realized by professors in cooperation with their students as part of their education in architecture and civil engineering. The projects below were realized in China, Canada and Finland over the last years. They have been analysed on the educational goals.