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Bird's-eye view of the Svart hotel on the Svartisen lake at sunset, Northern Norway
Bird's-eye view of the Svart hotel on the Svartisen lake at sunset, Northern Norway
Svart hotel, Svartisen.
Photo: Snøhetta / Plompmozes
Svart hotel, Svartisen.
Photo: Snøhetta / Plompmozes

Green luxury: the world’s first energy-positive hotel

Svart, the first energy-positive hotel ever designed, is a breath-taking example of a building in harmony with its surrounding nature.
February 7, 2020

This article was originally published on TheExplorer.no – the official marketplace for green solutions from Norway.​

The hotel is situated at the end of the emerald-green Holandsfjord near the ice-blue Svartisen glacier, just above the Arctic Circle. Svart, however, is much more than a hotel. It is an ambitious project involving innovative thinking, community-mindedness and green solutions, with the ocean as a red thread.

Svart takes its name from the glacier. Although “svart” means black in modern Norwegian, it is the word both for black and for blue in Old Norse. Thus, the name honours the hotel’s cultural heritage as well as its natural surroundings.

How this energy-positive hotel came to be

MIRIS – a sustainability-focused Norwegian real estate developer – is the owner and developer of the Svart project, which has been designed by the renowned architecture and design firm Snøhetta.

Jan-Gunnar Mathisen, CEO of MIRIS, explains how he first became aware of the site.

“Three years ago, my wife and I decided to spend our summer in the north of Norway, although our 15 year old twins boys were not too happy. We took our old motorhome and went to visit family up north before we took the coastal road all the way down, boarding a lot of ferries along the way. After a while, my boys put their phones away and started to look out the window. They were speechless.”

“The weather was quite bad that summer, but when we reached Svartisen it was completely clear. The climb takes around two hours. Sitting up there on the ice looking out over the emerald green water is truly something else.”

Three months later, a man visited Mathisen’s office out of the blue, bringing ice cubes from Svartisen that he wanted to sell.

“I told him that ice cubes are not my thing, but then he told me that he owned a plot close to the glacier and that he was planning a hotel. Then it clicked and I bought the plot off him.”

MIRIS contacted Snøhetta, which has a number of landmark buildings to its name, including the brand-new underwater restaurant Under in Southern Norway, the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York, and the Lascaux IV Caves Museum in France.

“Snøhetta is the most inventive design partner we could possibly have on board. In the beginning, they were a bit sceptical as they want to make sure that all planned projects will materialise. We had done our homework and told them how we wanted to do it, what our environmental ambitions were, where the travellers would arrive from and so forth,” says Mathisen.

Snøhetta then introduced Mathisen to the Powerhouse concept of an energy-positive building – a building that will produce more energy than was used during its entire life cycle, from production of building materials to construction, operation and demolition.

"It is an extreme vision, but I could tell that Snøhetta really wanted to be on board. ‘Let’s try this,’ I said, and got a lot of energy back. It has also really reflected on the project, and everyone wants to be a part of it."
Jan-Gunnar Mathisen, CEO of MIRIS

Becoming a Powerhouse

Svart will be the first building constructed in accordance with the energy-positive Powerhouse standard in an Arctic climate, as well as the world’s northernmost Powerhouse. Not only will the hotel consume approximately 85 per cent less energy per year than a modern hotel, it will also produce its own energy – which is critical in the vulnerable Arctic environment.

“Building in such a precious environment comes with some clear obligations in terms of preserving the natural beauty and the fauna and flora of the site. It was important for us to design a sustainable building that will leave a minimal environmental footprint on this beautiful northern nature,” says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founder and head of Snøhetta.

“Building an energy-positive and low-impact hotel is an essential factor to create a sustainable tourist destination respecting the unique features of the plot; the rare plant species, the clean waters and the blue ice of the Svartisen glacier.”

The design of the hotel is inspired by a “fiskehjell” (an A-frame wooden structure for drying fish) and a “rorbu” (a seasonal cabin used by fishermen). Like a rorbu, the hotel will be supported by wooden poles stretching several metres below the surface of the water. The construction will ensure a minimal footprint and give it an almost transparent appearance.

The body of Svart will be circular and extend from the base of the Almlifjell mountain into the Holandsfjord. When viewed from above, it will glow in the dark like a gold band. The circular shape will give tourists 360-degree views and the experience of living in proximity with nature.

The hotel will be supported by wooden poles extending into the fjord, inspired by traditional Norwegian fisherman’s cabins. Copyright: Snøhetta/Plompmozes

Environmentally and socially sustainable hotel

What started out as a hotel is now turning into much more.

“There are so many other factors to include. We have a farm up there that will provide the hotel with local produce. We are also building some smaller cabins nearby. The area should not be restricted to people with big wallets and anyone is welcome to visit the hotel for a meal or to go paddling,” says Mathisen.

MIRIS and Snøhetta will be collaborating extensively with local players, including wood suppliers.

“The community is incredibly positive: There are virtually no complaints, because we have involved them in the whole process,” he says. “They have so much to offer: You might be served an amazing meal on a windswept skerry. The local food and experience, this is what they excel at.”

There are plans to use electric ferries to shuttle the guests who arrive on the Hurtigruten cruise ship.

“The solar panels on the roof, possibly from the Norwegian company Glomfjord, will create an energy surplus that we can use to power the ferries from Ørnes, where the Hurtigruten cruise ship docks, to the hotel,” says Mathisen.

He adds that Svart may be joining forces with the Norwegian company Brim Explorer, whose silent hybrid-electric catamaran offers a unique tourist experience with underwater drones.

Another Norwegian company, Jets, will deliver the hotel’s innovative vacuum toilets, which will use 90 per cent less water and produce 90 per cent less sewage than traditional toilets.

Moreover, a nearby waterfall will be integrated into the hotel’s ecosystem. There will be facilities for marine research as well.

Svart is scheduled to open in Q4 2021, with construction starting in spring 2020. MIRIS and Snøhetta are currently working to make the building process as efficient and discreet as possible.

“We have created a vision: In five years Svart will go off-grid regarding water, sewage and electricity. We are currently looking for solutions that support this vision, this framework. We are setting a standard for the next generation of technology that we will use in future projects,” Mathisen concludes.

The hotel will offer 360° views and will glow like a golden ring when seen from above. Copyright: Snøhetta/Plompmozes