Ice Cool Spaces: Designing for the Ice Hotel
After starting out as a musician, then a blacksmith, Karl-Johan Ekeroth has now found his niche. This talented Gothenburg designer, in collaboration with Christian Strömqvist, creates interesting and playful places for young people, or for those who are just young at heart.
PinPin Studio - what is it about?
It’s about Christian and I designing objects and environments for play. Most of the time that means designing for children. We work with anything from interiors to digital games, so there’s a lot of variety in what we do. We’ve been working together in different projects for many years and when we finished our masters education in Child Culture Design at School of Design and Crafts two years ago, we decided to start working together. So that’s what we have been doing for the last couple of years. Having fun.
Gothenburg is often described as Stockholm’s edgy alter ego. Do you agree and how does the city influence your work?
I don’t know about edgy... maybe. No, seriously I feel that Gothenburg is like many other second cities, more relaxed and friendly in a way. Of course in our line of work, more things are happening in Stockholm. Living in Gothenburg still beats the advantages of working in Stockholm though. I love Stockholm but I think I’m a very Gothenburg kind of guy (whatever that means). I’m not sure. De e la gött!
Your piece Invoxicated incorporates your ‘design for play’ ambition. What did you hope to achieve when you started this project?
I wanted to create a play sculpture with sound intended for public space. My goal was to get both kids and adults to play with sound in a way that didn’t have any rights or wrongs. Many sound playgrounds are based on the classic way of playing music, which comes with a lot of rules and ideas about of how to use the sound. You can still play freely with these kinds of instruments; the kids are experts on that, but the adults find it difficult when not playing “the right tunes”. That’s why I made a more chaotic sound play. You can’t play right or wrong. The sculptural form reflects the chaotic sound and serves a functional purpose of giving a clear play signal to the user.
You have been responsible for designing and constructing rooms at the world famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi. Tell us about the experience, and your final designs.
This was the second time we designed a suite at the Icehotel. Last year we made a suite called “Kraken’s Lair” and this year we made “Beam Me Up” (a time lapse view of construction is below). What we’ve tried to create with our suites is to invite the visitors to take part in a story. It’s like you enter a scene from a movie, but it’s frozen in time. Literally.
We like to work with stories. Kraken’s Lair is based on the old mythological creature Kraken, from an old legend. Visitors to the Icehotel get involved in the story just as Kraken breaks the calm surface of the water to reach around the helpless boat and drag it down to the deep.
Beam me up is based on a conspiracy theory concerning numerous UFO sightings around Jukkasjärvi and the Torne River (where the Icehotel is located). When you enter the suite you enter a clearing in the forest where you can see four UFOs right in the middle of their beaming operation. They have come under the cover of the northern lights and if you want to you can partially step inside one of the beams to see how it feels to be beamed up.
Interesting stuff! Is it difficult to design and prepare for such a task while in Gothenburg, where the conditions aren’t as extreme as Jukkasjärvi?
Not really. But let me put it this way - you design something down here, and then you have to be very flexible when you’re up there. Of course you can’t make plans for everything that can happen during the building process of a room entirely made out of snow and ice, but the more experience you get from working with these kind of materials, the better you can plan your design from start.
Have you worked with ice as a medium in any other projects?
Yes, we have been involved in a couple of other projects that we have come across through working at the Icehotel. One year we helped our friends from Japan to build their igloo village on the frozen Lake Shikaribetsu, in the beautiful Daisetsu national park in the middle of Hokkaido, Japan. Two years we have participated in the Sapporo International Snow Sculpture Contest, also in Japan. But the strangest ice project I was involved in must be when I took part in building a fitting room for a Swedish ski clothes brand, entirely made out of ice, in central Stockholm
What are some of the difficulties you have faced?
Working in ice and snow is a fantastic experience. It’s hard to explain the feeling of cutting into a one and a half ton block of crystal clear ice. It’s quite magical. The main tools you use for sculpting is chainsaw and chisel. With a razor sharp chisel, making a cut in ice is like cutting butter. That is also one of the hard parts. It’s easy to take away too much. It’s not hard to fall in love with this material. Ice is really heavy but very fragile. We can borrow it for a couple of months during winter to make our sculptures but when the spring comes, it returns to the river.
Words: Corbin Stevic