Some of the most spectacular – if temporary – design creations in the world are currently on show in China as this month sees the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival where architects both amateur and professional compete with one another to show creativity.
The structures last just a few weeks during the low temperatures which see Siberian winds roaring across north east China – but up to 800,000 people are expected to witness them before they melt.
Temperatures as low as -35C have been recorded in the region and while the sculptures are usually gone for ever by the end of February they have been known – in extreme conditions – to last until spring.
The festival started out as a local affair with artists and designers from China taking part – but it has now become a major international event as it boast the largest temporary ice buildings in the world.
To construct the designs swing saws are used to carve ice into blocks after it has been extracted from the nearby frozen Songhua River. Chisels, picks and saws are then used to mould it into the shapes of palace, towers and sculptures along with staircases and passageways to give visitors access to the site.
Deionised water can give the creations the transparency of glass while multi-coloured lights add variations to the designs, especially at night.
“First some workers dig the ice blocks. Then we sculptors start carving the outline then the design. Then we use some specific tools to get out the details,” said local designer Ji Huailong who has been taking part in the event for several years.
The festival was first held in 1963 and was then interrupted for political reasons before it became an annual event 30 years ago. It is run alongside a competition for innovative design which this year was won by a group of students from Thailand.
“The festival represents Harbin’s own local customs and culture foundations,” says Zhang Xiongfei, a student from China’s Hebei province. “It has its own ice sculptures and works of art. It highlights Harbin’s local customs and the Chinese creativity.”