‘Preserving Pyramiden’ (a.k.a. how to resurrect a ghost in 120 hours)


It took the Russians 120 months and bucketloads of money to make a bit of progress in Pyramiden. A handful of student volunteers are hoping to surpass that in 120 hours.

It’ll be a theoretical rather than physical remaking of the world’s northernmost ghost town, however, even though the students have enticed 2,700 people to pitch in on the effort. The participants are detailing their “radical ideas” for preserving the long-abandoned mining settlement in an annual “120 Hours” competition that began Tuesday.

“This is the first time we are using an area off the mainland and with a more complex political background,” wrote Helene Offer-Ohlsen, a student and contest organizer at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, which started the event in 2010, in an e-mail interview. “The feedback we have received to far has only been positive, so it seems like people found the site very engaging to work with.”

“Another reason for our choice was related to the theme of this year: experimental preservation. We were looking for a place that could start a discussion about preservation.”

Pyramiden, founded by Sweden in 1910 and sold to Russia in 1927, was a coal mining hub for decades with more than 1,000 residents at its peak. Mining came to a halt in 1998 and efforts to revive it as a tourist destination began nearly a decade later, but dragged on far longer and at greater cost than expected. The refurbished Tulip hotel finally opened last March and Russia is now planning to place a small research facility there as a satellite to a future science center in Barentsburg


Whatever concept the contest winner comes up with probably won’t be used by Trust  Arktikugol, the Russian state-owned company responsible for oversight of the settlement. The Russians’ long-planned vision for the area aside, the contest also ignores certain practical requirements like the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act.

“This is a pure conceptual competition,” Offer-Ohlsen wrote. “The participant will not consider any regulation rules. The purpose of this competition is not to build something in the end, it is to discuss the issues of preservation through arguments and conceptual illustrations.”

Pyramiden’s status as a ghost town has made it popular for numerous artistic projects in recent years including books, films, music albums and videos, and video games.