ONLY 120 HOURS TO SAVE SVALBARD: Global competition/exhibit by students imagines wild world of societies and environments 100 years from now

Lured by the challenge of making a solitary person do something that creates a community in Svalbard 100 years from now, the 600 worldwide visionaries came up with themes grouped into concepts such as helping humans limit/survive climate change, preserving the environment over people, artistry, infrastructure, Donald Trump and the post-apocalypse (no successive cause-effect implied for the latter two). And then out of 500 visionaries there’s the winning concept:


OK, to be fair that’s just one line out of a few dozen in the narrative (although about a dozen are variations like “GACCAACTCTCCAGCGA” and “CTGACTACGTGATCGAAT”).


Lines of “data poetry” accompanied by a gardener’s mission to plant them in a glacier until climate change causes the ice to melt and the seeds take root in soil fill one of the two pages in “The Garden Archive” by Jan Sienkiewicz and Anna Nauwaldt, the winning entrants in the 2019 “120 Hours” design competition, which this year envisioned designs for the future of Svalbard. Image courtesy of

But those seemingly cofefe cryptograms in all-caps serve as critical “lines of genetic poetry” for “The Archivist Gardener,” the title and female protagonist of the winning entry. Her task is creating a garden “made of seeds whose DNA has been modified with a transcript of data” that are planted in holes drilled in a glacier so they’ll take root in soil when the glacier melts and provide the knowledge from the seeds to future generations.”

Hey, it could happen.

OK, probably not, but feasibility obviously wasn’t a requirement in the annual “120 Hours” competition for student architects who have a short amount of time (take a guess how much) to design their project. This year’s theme returned to Svalbard, where the 2015 competition challenged participants to envision a future for Pyramiden, where students took on the bigger challenge of designing the future the entire archipelago in words and images on two sheets of A3-size paper.

Jan Godzimirsks, one of four project managers who unveiled a three-day exhibition of the winners Friday in Longyearbyen (watch full presentation), said one of the board members has ties to people in Svalbard and suggested partnering with Artica Svalbard for a second competition here. Allowing participants to think beyond political and other realities was seen as a creative plus (among several hypothetical examples they were provided was “an international criminal who can take advantage of Svalbard’s unusual legislations and comprehensive data access to undermine democratic regimes elsewhere on the globe”).


Visiting organizers with the “120 Hours” competition unveil a three-day exhibit of the 600 entries Friday in a large residence on Vei 226 that is scheduled for demolition in the near future because it is now considered in a high-risk avalanche zone. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople. (Watch video of presentation)

“The whole intention of ‘120 Hours’ is to be a bit provocative,” Godzimirsks said. That means “having a discussion outside of normal settings.”

The location for the exhibit that was on display through Sunday was arguable equally discussion-provoking, but in a definite real-life sense. The recently-unoccupied large family complex on Vei 226 is scheduled for demolition in the near future because it is among  about 140 residences that will demolished because a study last year determined they are now in a high-risk avalanche area due to climate change.

“I was supposed to be demolished ths summer, but it got delayed so we were able to use this space,” said Anne Lise Lizcano Ladegård, another of the presenters.

Dozens of local residents, many of whom are taking part in the multitude of real-life debates about Svalbard’s future as it goes through a massive short- and long-term transition, attended the opening. Kanerva Karpo, a graphics designer who has lived in Longyearbyen since 2017, graphic designer, said asking people about the future often turns into a political discussion where the mandate of the Norwegian government and other global entities often thwarts entries in the competition that intrigued her.

A wide variety of concepts and designs, ranging from scientific to poetic in narrative, are displayed on one of many walls as part of the “120 Hours” exhibit. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“There was one about making Svalbard a very isolated place” dedicated to research and preserving nature, she said. “Because of the political situation that will never happen.”

Among the entries that impressed Karpo was one featuring floating houses in the harbor area, while odd concepts included “a house on top of a glacier. It’s not very practical.”

Although some concepts were impossible for various reasons “at the same time it’s idealistic, so that’s good,” she said.

But the basic concept of the competition of a single person creating a future society/environment struck Eva Grøndal, manager of an arts program for the city, as being at odds with the essence of what human life is in this unique area.


A residential building now unoccupied because it is a high-risk avalanche zone was repainted to serve as the space for the “120 Hours” exhibit. Photo courtesy of Artica Svalbard.

“What I didn’t see was a big community,” she said. “It’s one person and (here) we are all dependent on each other. We are a group people and we need to be together.”

The annual competition was launched in 2010 by students at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. The rather strict rules for this year (any deviation immediately disqualifies) instructed entrants to:

• “Present a person, real or ficticious, who you suggest could move to Svalbard today. Give us their name or title, and tell us why they should live in Svalbard. Maximum 60 words.”

• “Illustrate the first structure, building or intervention that this person would need for their activities in Svalbard. And suggest a location for it.”

• “100 years later. A settlement or a community has grown from the place where this person lived. Illustrate the area. Minimum requirement: A section or plan of the area. If the settlement is large, your drawings can be schematic. If you draw too small details we won’t be able to see them, so make it readable in A3 size.”

• “Shortly describe the key features of the settlement. Up to 200 words.”

The exhibition sorted entries into categories displayed in each room (the ones invoking Donald Trump were part of a room with dictatorial themes). The three top finishers and a collection of honorable mentions occupied two walls where the presentation took place.

The winning entry was submitted by Jan Sienkiewicz and Anna Nauwaldt of The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

Second place went to Julie Tholens of the Aarhus School of Architecture for “Trace No Trace,” featuring a hermit named Nielswho “wants to die. The world is doomed. Niels reads that you’re not allowed to die on Svalbard, and is fascinated. The most enviromentally- friendly way of living at Svalbard is to not live there at all. But why shouldn’t it be a place to die, alongside the nature, that’s also dying?”

Third place went to Natalia Ciastoń, Barbara Płonczyńska and Tomasz Hryciuk of the Warsaw Univwersity of Technology
in Poland for “Kintsugi.” It features “a Japanese artist named Kintsugi came to Svalbard. Torn-apart by the devastating effects of human activity, he started working on his laborious art.”