China’s Harbin Festival Creates a Frozen City

Friday, January 17th, 2014
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Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival by day
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The annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival has opened in Northern China and is an architectural delight.

The three-month long festival was first established in 1985 and is renowned for sculpting a frozen city that produces some of the world’s most iconic architectural structures in ice.

Work began last November with over 7,000 workers, architects and local engineering students working to create ice sculptures that span an area of over 500,000 square metres.

This year’s festival features ice sculptures that represent Rome’s Colosseum, New York’s Empire State Building and the country’s own Great Wall of China.  More than 180,000 square metres of ice was sourced from the nearby Songhua River. That, along with 150,000 square metres of man-made snow, was used to design and construct the sculptured city.

Sculptures embedded with LED's

Sculptures embedded with LEDs

Swing saws, chisels and iron ice picks were used to obtain the ice from the local frozen river. The blocks of ice were then carved, etched and intricately decorated. The larger sculptures are generally carved in blocks and assembled on site.

2014 marks the Harbin festival’s 30th year, so the event itself is much larger than previous years and includes a structure that stands up to 26 metres tall and one that stretches 117 metres wide.

Visitors can also opt to glide down a 240-metre long slide or take a dog sleigh or horse drawn carriage ride across the ice. On the official launch day, there was also a swimming competition in a pool carved into the frozen Songhua river which runs through the city.

Ice sourced from the local Songhua River

Ice sourced from the local Songhua River

Visitors can even marvel at an icy reproduction of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s floating Rubber Duck installation that has been travelling the world since 2007.

While the frozen city captivates by day, it becomes an evening wonderland with each sculpture embedded with LED lights. Distilled water was used to make some ice sculptures more transparent.

240 metre ice slide

240-metre ice slide

Harbin’s festival is one of the world’s four largest international ice festivals, alongside Canada’s Quebec Winter Carnival, Norway’s Sky Festival and Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival.

While the festival’s ambition for a three-month event is contingent on the weather, with temperatures in Harbin known to reach  -40 degrees Celsius, it’s definitely achievable.

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