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Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
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World's Tallest Ice Tower Paves the Way for New Sustainable Building Technique

Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 2 February 2018
On the face of it alone, this record-breaking ‘Flamenco Ice Tower’ built in Harbin, China, is impressive, but perhaps what’s more interesting than its 31-metre height is the groundbreaking construction method, which could even be used on Mars missions in the future.

The distinctive ice tower has been installed at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, and was inspired by a cultural combination of traditional Chinese towers and the shape of a flamenco dancer’s dress.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

Designed by an international team of Dutch-based Chinese students and professors from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and Summa College, the sculpture is made of a mixture of ice and natural fibres. The latter providing it with extra strength.

The result is an extremely durable building material that is three times stronger than pure ice, which allows for greater flexibility when building thinner and more intricate structures, or those that need to cover greater areas.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

In order to construct a tower of this size, a balloon is first inflated to serve as the mold for the internal structure, much like the way a papier-mâché construction is created, and then the fibre-reinforced ice is sprayed over the top to around 25 cm thick. Once it’s set, the balloon is then deflated, leaving a strong, smooth cone-shaped tower.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

This technique has been perfected over the last two years by the design team, which also built a prototype model of the final structure on the HIT campus in 2017. The academics hope that this technology could be a way of of constructing temporary accommodation and shelters in cold areas, ‘or even Mars missions’.

The other bonus is that, of course, by its nature, the structure would also be entirely recyclable and also sustainable. While obviously limited to cold climates, the construction only requires water and natural fibres otherwise, and when spring arrives, it will melt away, leaving no impact on the landscape.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

People visiting the festival can enter the ice sculpture under the curved canopies and climb the ice-block steps to the heart of the tower where they can look up into the huge dome, which is equivalent to a six-storey building.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

This design is significantly taller than the team’s previous attempt at the fair back in 2015, which was 21 metres tall. This year, the Flamenco Ice Tower was opened by the Dutch ambassador on January 10 – the ice festival will continue until the end of February 2018.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

The team intend to follow up from the festival by creating more ice structures in the future to coincide with the Olympic Winter Games in 2022, which will be held in Beijing and towns in the neighbouring Hebei province from February 4–20, 2022.

Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology
Courtesy of Eindhoven University of Technology

Read more about the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival here.