Set next to the majestic Svartisen glacier in the Arctic circle, when Svart opens its doors it’s set to be the world’s first climate positive destination. A sustainability pioneer, Svart will be the first building created in accordance with the strict Powerhouse standard in a Northern climate.
I chatted to journalist Anja Stang who was interested in finding out what makes Svart more than a hotel. Here’s what she wrote:
Innovative Norwegian building and tech company MIRIS is the owner and developer of the impressive project designed by renowned Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. The destination will reduce the average yearly energy use by approximately 85 percent and produce more energy than it needs. The hotel’s circular shape will feature 360-degree views and create an experience of living in proximity with nature – in particular the glowing blue glacier it is named after.
Last year, before anyone was aware of the approaching pandemic, the ambitious project was scheduled to open at the end of 2021. In light of covid-19, the current estimate is the spring of 2023. “The times have been trying and still are, but trying times create new opportunities. We started a funding process just as Norway closed down, so the timing really couldn’t have been worse”, the CEO of MIRIS, Jan-Gunnar Mathisen, laughs wryly.
But like most of us, MIRIS discovered how much they could get done via video conferences. “I’ve gained a lot of new friends through the process. Now we have regained our momentum”, Mathisen says.
At the time of writing, he has just closed a deal with a large Chinese company using Svart as a foundation: “We are receiving value from the project before it has even been built. The Silk Road Initiative is about building several smart cities with a strong environmental focus. The concept of Svart led them to seek our advice in the development and building stages”, he explains.
Sustainable energy use, food production and waste
The CEO has noticed a growing environmental awareness in light of the pandemic: “The coronavirus has increased companies’ focus on sustainability and I don’t think we would have been given these opportunities without it. I must admit I was surprised by the strong commitment.”
From the very beginning, the goal with Svart was to develop new technology and the company is already noticing the effects more than two years before the hotel is scheduled to open. “We’re experiencing an incredible interest in the project. We actually have companies offering to deliver technical solutions for free, just to be part of it”, Mathisen tells me.
The energy side of the project and how it’s spent is key, he says. “Even though we’re very far north, we are producing extreme amounts of solar power. The total carbon footprint of the solar panels we are choosing truly matters.”
The world’s cleanest solar power?
Coincidentally, possibly the cleanest raw materials for solar power in the world are currently produced in Glomfjord, only 12 miles away from Svart. The solar panels on its roof will create an energy surplus that can power the ferries from the cruise ship Hurtigruta to the destination. “We are trying to choose the production methods that give the lowest climate footprint from the beginning. And luckily, a lot of the prime technology can be produced within Norway and Scandinavia.”
MIRIS is planning to test a lot of different technologies at other sites before implementing them in Svart. Upon completion, the destination will in return function as a kind of sustainable lab for new solutions to be used in future projects developed by the company.
Food production is another important factor that needs to happen locally and all year round. Take the concept of microgreens: “When we can grow vegetables vertically in eight to ten days. Things are starting to get exciting”, Jan-Gunnar Mathisen glows. “Suddenly we can manage all the operations within the same cycle. Svart is a complete ecosystem. There’s no corner store, we have to take care of everything ourselves. In this way, it becomes a ‘closed loop’ over which we have total control.”
In addition to advanced tech solutions for waste management (“a great energy resource”), MIRIS is planning to build a small hydropower plant to make use of the meltwater from the neighbouring glacier. The goal, Mathisen explains, is for Svart to be off-grid regarding water use, sewage and electricity in five years’ time.
The future of building is digital
As almost all building work has been halted due to the coronavirus, MIRIS is using an inventive solution: Svart will be built a hundred percent digitally before the physical building starts. Everything will be created in one digital model so that the company can simulate all processes.
By building digitally, you can save up to 20 percent of error costs and address the concept of a waste-free building site, Mathisen explains. “We will create exact drawings and be able to see whether everything fits, down to the placement of a chair or the smallest nail. We will be streaming the building process so that anyone can follow it.”
Digital building is pioneering tech innovation in the making: “Many are talking about it now and this method will surely become the norm. With Svart, we will actually do it.” Jan-Gunnar Mathisen talks me through digital building meetings where attendees enter the building virtually, with the aid of VR glasses. “For instance, we have been discussing the anchoring to the seabed at Svart. We then met virtually at the seabed to see if it works! This provides an amazing predictability.”
As digitisation is becoming even more essential worldwide due to the pandemic, more money than ever is spent on developing the relevant technology. Last year, when testing VR, Mathisen had to use a joystick. Today, a camera and the palm of your hand is all you need to create a seamless experience. This development goes for all areas of sustainable tech.
A lot is currently happening within boats and transportation, so we will need to look deeply into this. AI toilets are another exciting novelty. It’s fun to see that Norway is far ahead in these areas”, the passionate CEO says. “We might have to go abroad to finance the development of Svart but we will use as much local labour and Nordic tech as possible.”
What really makes Svart more than a hotel is that they aren’t reliant on guests to make a profit. The hotel’s success will be measured by the sustainable technology they develop, which will not only be used in the hotel but implemented in other buildings around the world.