Arctica 78N


Arctica 78N is a research project.

The researchfor a place, for a particular expression of being, fragile but rich at the same time, through a conscious, drastic,choice. Arctitca 78Nis a project investigating the possible perimeter of an extreme life condition, wording a proposal. 

The Arctic landscape, its light and its deafening silence presents the ideal context for a design operation that deals with a utopia. It reveals and at the same time takes to extreme the rude, certainly hostile, nature of this place.

On the other hand it is one of the few places on our planet biologically more active and scientifically interesting. In a few square miles of icy territory students, professors, scientists are all acting researchers, collaborating in different fields.

Research, however, is also the foundation of the functional program. A building from the annular plant rises in the dark waters of the Adventfjorden, anchored by empty pillars to the bottom of the sea. A series of harbour facilities that support Longyearbyen is what realises the project. An office building, a lighthouse tower and three new hangars are located on the mainland, occupying the current port area. 

Since their discovery in 1596, the Svalbard Archipelago andLongyearbyenhave been considered to be primarily a place for the exploitation of resources. The research of resources, which continues today, turns into scientific research as a whole. It is a new vital and catalysing force for the entire archipelago.

Arctica 78N is organised into two interventions, physically separated, but conceptually united by the connection with the working function and their continuous relationship with the water element.
An offshore research center is located between the waters of the Adventfjorden, on Spitsbergen Island west coast, and a new building for the harbour activities of Longyearbyen located on the mainland.

The project of the Research Center, the main focus, has the aim to investigate a partially isolated study and work condition. Its circumference, with a diameter of 400 meters, stands out, with three levels, from the icy waters of a side bay of the great Isfjorden, each one with a specific assigned function, critical for the life of the entire building.

The planimetric layout finds its most profound formal reasons in the often circular path of research. A continuous verification of methodologies and results; the vision of a problem from more points of view and its possible solution; the continuous return to unconfirmed hypotheses. Moreover, the volume, while declaring itself in a clear and inevitably direct way, represents an ambiguous visual goal. Joining the background, represented by the fjord, the circularity of the building forces us to follow it and to always change our point of observation, approaching it in a questioning way. In this scenario, calm and silence represent the most evident traits of this remote place. However, looking at it more closely and carefully, we are ready to embrace the incredible amount of life and scientific discoveries shown to researchers, who reach the Svalbard Archipelago for their studies, from all over the world.


What prompted the project in the Arctic?

Reasons and motif oscillate between personal, autobiographical as well as theoretical.
I was born at the seaside and during my time at university, I didn’t have the opportunity to thoroughly investigate large-scale infrastructural systems. These two motivations led me to think that a a research center and of port facility project could represent a right synthesis of the two.
I was interested in dealing with the theme of life and work in extreme conditions, the Arctic Circle and the Svalbards, appeared as the ideal scenario for the thesis work.

How important was the initial visit 'on site'? What role did the data and information gathered play in the development of the project?

I find it impossible to face design without a site visit. The importance of critically understanding context, is at the basis of the design process.
Firstly, visiting the Svalbards was important from a human point of view. The opportunity to reflect on oneself and on architecture in such an unusual context was very profitable for the research. Thanks to the help of individuals, at UNIS – University Center in Svalbard – and also on behalf of the administration of Longyearbyen, I was able to gather a lot of historical information, technical evaluations, drawings and personal perspectives. Through these I somewhat managed to get in tune with the place whilst creating a good framework for the project.

How important were the photographs as materials through which to record the area?

I believe that photography is an important medium for studying architecture and therefore for understanding place, context – critical conditions for starting a Project.
A photographic campaign contemporarily allows and obliges one to continuous exploration movement.

Did you explore the site through different mediums as those of sound?

In some ways, sound was actually an exploratory medium. The silence that reigns hose places is incredible. Often, the only sound you can hear is the wind and your mind.

Where do you see the future of this fragile region as the ice caps melt and potential new routes of commerce are opened?

The opening of the North-East Passage was one of the reasons that led me to choose Longyearbyen. The first idea was to design a new industrial harbor. Once in place, however, I understood the importance of the site for the scientific community and for the whole planet. Following this reflection I had to adapt the project.
Arctic environments are vital for the balance of global ecosystems, numerous species are found at Svalbard during the breeding season thanks to its plankton-rich seas.
The Arctic Circle, as well as the other desert ecosystems of the planet, are very fragile and are already really affected by climate changes caused by humankind.

What was your work process in terms of project development, research and design?

The first step was the site visit. Here initial sketches and first design considerations were developed.
In Longyearbyen, I was lucky enough to meet Professors Matthew Jull and Leena Cho of the UVA – University of Virginia – founders of the Arctic Design Group with whom I had the opportunity to discuss various aspects relating to both our researches.
Subsequently, after two weeks in the Arctic, I returned to Rome, where I conducted the entire phases of design and final presentation.
During the entire process I created a large scale model of the intervention area.

What programs/softwares did you use?

Can we include books within the tools used? I read numerous books, very different from each other and not all, at first sight, directly connected to the project. However, every book was important and, in some way, influenced the project.
The software used were many. Clearly AutoCAD, Photoshop and Illustrator, but also QGIS for reading and processing maps and DEMs. The three-dimensional modeling was made with SketchUp and Cinema4D, the latter also used for rendering in conjunction with an external engine.

What defined the primary use of the plan as means to explore the intervention?

The plan and the section are the two main tools for designing and analyzing a work. Inside the plant, the idea of space is embedded, completed by the section. It has always been for me the starting point of every project.

At a very interesting times for both the Arctic and Antarctica are you interested in exploring a research on the poles further?

Visiting the Arctic was an incredible opportunity, as an architect and as a person.
The idea of continuing a research on the topics which are behind my thesis seems certain to me. I hope to be able to also visit Antarctica, to compare the invariants and the differences between these two fantastic places.


Andrea D’Urzo graduated in 2017 at the Faculty of Architecture of Sapienza University of Rome.
He is a PhD student in Architectural Composition of DrACo School of Doctorate at Sapienza DiAP department.
The reasons and the methods at the basis of formal creation in architecture represent his main research field.
With a great passion for photography, he had the opportunity to show his master thesis project and the related photographic reportage during a personal exhibition at Sinestetica Gallery in Rome.