The Arc by Snøhetta: Arctic Visitor Center for Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault

In 2019, Snøhetta unveiled their visionary design for The Arc, an Arctic preservation storage visitor center, situated in the remote Svalbard archipelago off the coast of Norway.

Commissioned by Arctic Memory AS, The Arc’s primary focus will be to provide an immersive experience, showcasing the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – the world’s largest secure seed storage – and the Arctic World Archive, a digital heritage preservation vault. The project aims to educate visitors on the value of global preservation and the unique geology of the Arctic region, as well as emphasize the importance of the climatic and political stability found within Svalbard’s permafrost.

The Arc’s architecture is an elegant composition of two distinct volumes: the entrance building, housing visitor facilities and the Arctic World Archive production facilities, and the exhibition building, showcasing the Seed Vault and the Arctic World Archive. Each volume contrasts in form, texture, and color, with the entrance building clad in burnt wood and dark glass panels, while the exhibition building presents a robust monolithic exterior shaped by the site’s extreme weather conditions. Snøhetta‘s careful design choices, such as the structural frame of cross-laminated timber and solar panel-adorned roofs, demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and respect for the Arctic environment.

Visitors to The Arc will embark on a multisensory journey, traversing a glass access bridge to enter the exhibition building, where they will experience a powerful digital archive housing both permanent and temporary exhibits. From floorboards at ground level, visitors will gain visual access to the contents of the Arctic World Archive and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Interactive elements, such as touch screens and virtual reality experiences, developed in collaboration with storytelling agency Tellart, provide an engaging and immersive exploration of the vaults’ treasures.

The ceremony room, situated within the exhibition building, serves as a contemplative space for deposit ceremonies, lectures, and talks, as well as individual reflection. The room’s centerpiece, a large deciduous tree, symbolizes the vegetation that once flourished in Svalbard over 200 million years ago and stands as a stark reminder of the imminent consequences of global warming. The Arc is a testament to the importance of preserving the world’s natural and digital resources for future generations, serving as a powerful educational tool and a beacon of inspiration for innovative preservation solutions.

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