Museum on Ice: The Glaciarium Opens in Argentina

Posted by Staff on Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Glacarium Museum in El Calafate

Most people know of glaciers as those massive bodies of ice that repeatedly make headlines for melting at alarming rates. Naturalist Luciano Bernacchi set out to increase our knowledge of glaciers with the opening of the Glaciarium, Argentina’s new Museum of Ice. Situated at the entrance into Los Glaciaries National Park in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, The Glaciarium offers itself as a forward-thinking resource center for the appreciation and understanding of glaciers and their environmental impact. Of course, you have to get there first in order to appreciate what it has to offer. If you do happen to find yourself in Buenos Aires, you still have a good 40 hour bus ride to El Calafate, the small town on the edge of the park. Still, 350,000 visitors make the journey to the glaciers every year and the first glacier-like object they will encounter is the museum itself.

The design of the Glaciarium, a collaboration between architects Pablo Güiraldes, Javier Fernández and Santiago Cordeyro, was inspired by the shapes and movement of the sprawling ice fields of Patagonia. Although, some visitors to the museum might find themselves recalling the sharp angular world of Fritz Lang’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. As you approach the museum, you are met by three crooked towers that seem to slice through the main entrance hall. Designed to resemble the jutting peaks of glaciers, they evoke a tension between powerful organic forms and boxy man-made structures.

One of the guiding principles in the development of the Glaciarium was minimal impact on the local environment. Very little of the site was altered to prepare for construction: no landscaping was done, except for the dirt roads that lead to the museum, and only minor grading before laying the foundation. This lightness of touch seems to reflect a sentiment of impermanence, perhaps inspired by the awesome size and timescale of glaciers. The different sections of the museum were primarily built using corrugated steel, which is easy to install and easy to remove if need be. Likewise, the energy usage is intended to be minimized by installing LED lights throughout the museum and utilizing strategic insulation. This light and minimal design underscores the museum’s primary objective of education and preservation.

Unlike more traditional museums that can seem heavy-handed in their methods of cataloguing and presenting artifacts, the Glaciarium embraces a more mobile and fluid model of knowledge that is informed by modern technology. The exhibits in the three pavilions beyond the main entrance deliver information with a mixture of standard museum media and state-of-the-art technology. Photographs and models of glaciers are integrated with varying projections and a 3D movie theatre in one of the pavilions. This type of presentation, one that includes aspects of entertainment, is a key element in engaging a public that is becoming more and more well versed in digital media.

One of the less educational elements of the Glaciarium is the downstairs Glacio Bar, which mimics the now famous Absolut Icebars. Perhaps one can get away with framing it as a type of hands-on experience since everything in the bar is carved from Patagonian ice. Although, it does make you wonder how much energy is needed to keep the bar temperature controlled.

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