Ice Music Artist Spotlight No.1 - Stage & Arena Architect Helder Neves

Every festival requires a foundation / platform for musicians and artists to perform on and the Ice Music Festival is no exception. What separates the Ice Music Festival from other contemporary festivals around the world, is that the material its foundation is built from is snow and lots of it!

The Ice Music Festival's first 2 years presented a complex challenge for the organisers - how to build a fresh stage and audience arena from snow, year after year, whilst keeping the look fresh and exciting, as well as being practical for musicians and audiences alike.

This dilemma started being analyzed during the preparation stages of the 2008 Festival, with the arrival of a volunteer from Pombal in Portugal - Helder Neves.

Helder Neves / The Ice Music Festival Stage & Arena Architect

Helder Neves / The Ice Music Festival Stage & Arena Architect

A practicing architect, Helder had recently relocated from Portugal to Norway (currently living and working in Tromsø) and was looking for a fresh perspective on Norse culture. Upon discovering the Ice Music Festival, Helder quickly immersed himself into the Ice Music Festival family. Helder then went to work exploring new arena design concepts and construction techniques, utilising Geilo's abundant natural winter building material - frozen H20.

Q: Are there similarities between your architectural practice and creating a snow stage & arena?

A: Nearly all my design work - be it a shopping mall, cultural centre or private residence - are structures primarily conceived to house people, and allow them to move around and access the space(s) with ease.

This movement and interaction with space is particularly crucial when producing the right balance of interplay between the stage’s performance area and the audience. Ice Music is an intimate aural experience, so I always want to strike a healthy balance of listening pleasure with the drama of witnessing instruments constructed completely from ice.

Q: Are there any particular design or construction challenges in Geilo?

A: Aside from the conceptual design stage, definitely the biggest challenge is coordination of all the construction work, so there is no overlap. For example, when the sound engineer Tor Magne Hallibakken moves in, it is time for the stage design team to move out - with no delay. Site accessibility and safety of all the teams is also a top priority.

Q: What is it like to work with snow instead of concrete, metal and wood?

A: Snow is a very rewarding material to build with - assuming temperatures stay low (which they do in Geilo!). Compact snow is extremely strong, holds an amazing loading capacity and looks ‘new’ even after repeated re-shaping (as long as it hasn’t been contaminated).

Aesthetically speaking - snow’s subtle tones of white and its reflective properties during both the day and night is beautiful, and brings out the child in everyone. Additionally, there are a few shaping techniques that I’ve refined over the years, which assists in producing a magical look.

Q: What are your design influences & inspirations?

A: The full moon, wind, the cold and reacting to each year’s performance theme(s) and signature instrument. Ice music from the Festival itself is the best 'conductor' to set my mood before I start sketching. Terje’s (Isungset) ethereal sound has been a great influence over the past 7 years.

Helder's work with Ice Music Festival is featured in superb article in one of Scandinavia's leading architectural magazines - Arkitektur N Magazine - the publication of the Norwegian Review of Architecture.

If you would like to read the whole article (in English) please click on the front cover below.

Ice Music Festival