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High above the Arctic Circle in Lapland, glass-domed igloos provide full views of the night sky to watch, unimpeded, the spectacle of the aurora borealis. Even when the temperature falls below minus 30 degrees Centigrade, these glass hemispheres remain clear and retain heat. These igloos are part of the resort Hotel Kakslauttanen in Finland, above the Arctic Circle. Architect Risto Eräpohja of Turku, Finland, created the Igloo Village so guests can experience and appreciate the beauty of Lapland nature and the Northern Lights - even in extreme winter conditions. The secret is that they are built from a special insulating glass that actually melts snow by gentle heating, ensuring clear views in all weather conditions. The glass is comprised of double or triple glazing that emits electronically-controlled radiant heat so that the temperature inside the igloos always stays at a moderate level. The glass itself is an energy-efficient system with a low U-value. Two plates of tempered glass form a sandwich, where the inside pane is coated with an invisible thin film. A small electrical charge is applied to the glass that causes electrical resistance which generates heat. The outer pane has another invisible coating which reflects the heat and prevents its escape, and keeps the room cooler during the warmer months, too. The glazing system also eliminates condensation and icing, and the reflective layers within the glass reflect harmful UV rays. Plus, the tempered glass panes are five times stronger than typical window glass, and won’t shatter if broken. The radiant heat produced by this system is felt by inhabitants directly, similar to the way the sun’s rays warm interiors on a sunny day; heat is absorbed and retained by the objects in the room so the temperature remains comfortable and people feel warmer. The feeling of warmth allows a decrease in room temperature by one to two degrees C with no loss of comfort, thereby lowering energy use as well. The radiant heating causes no air current so there are no drafts. (Scroll to bottom for additional resources)
The following article is from the New York Times:
By James Schemberi/The New York Times, January 14, 2009
A Bed Under Glass in the Land of the Aurora
I trudged up the snowy hill, head bent against the freezing wind with my overnight kit under my arm, trying to make my way through the snow in the arctic dark. The Hotel Kakslauttanen, in the tiny Finnish town of Saariselka, had turned off the walkway lights to prevent glare and give me a clearer view of the sky. That would have been considerate if I had already been in place to see the northern lights, but I was running late getting to my accommodations and I could barely see where I was walking.
But what accommodations they were. I was about to spend my first night in a glass igloo, a jewel-like one-room (plus a tiny bathroom) glass enclosure that allows you to marvel at the aurora borealis from bed. The 20 igloos were built by Jussi Eiramo, the owner of the hotel, for just that purpose and attract people from around the world. This is northern lights country, and Mr. Eiramo said he got the igloo idea after seeing people outside in the cold at night, staring at the sky in hope. “Better to see the lights in a warm place in bed,” he thought and started construction in 1999.
Spending a night in an igloo is magical. Lying in bed, looking up at the sky, is like camping under the stars, but with the heat on. The igloos are adorable and incredibly romantic. (Unfortunately, my traveling companion was not my wife, but my friend Chuck.)
The British couple two igloos down couldn’t find their igloo in the dark, either, and had to call the reception desk from their cellphone for assistance. It also doesn’t help that here above the Arctic Circle we were getting only about four hours of dusklike sunlight a day. Management helps by including a tiny flashlight in the leather case that holds the door key. The handy case also has a bottle opener for when you eventually find your room. How thoughtful.
A village of glass igloos is built in three rows on a hill about a chilly 10-minute walk from the main guest cabins. My cabin had a king-sized bed in one room and bunk beds in the other, along with a small kitchen, a shower and a personal sauna. (A Finnish friend said the tradition is to go outside and make a snow angel after a sauna. I tried it. He’s nuts.) A night in the igloo cost me about $370, not much more than in a cabin, but the igloos don’t have showers, which means you can’t spend all your nights in an igloo. It was the off season when I visited and the hotel was pretty empty, so Mr. Eiramo gave us access to a cabin to shower and dress.
And as I learned from the British couple as I walked by their igloo as they prepared for bed, if people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, people spending the night in glass igloos shouldn’t get undressed with the lights on. The curtains that wrap around the interior, and stop just a few inches above the beds, only give the perception of privacy.
On the night the Britons and I shared igloo hill, conditions were perfect to see the northern lights. I have always wanted to experience the lights, but this was my first attempt. Unfortunately, viewing them is a cold-weather pursuit. While I was there in Lapland, it was about 15 degrees during the day. I married a woman from Miami who shivers anywhere north of St. Augustine, and hunting the lights has never been on our agenda. If I wanted to see them, she made clear, they would have to either inch south or I’d have to go alone. So I invited Chuck, my oldest friend and godfather to one of my sons.
Even with perfect viewing conditions, the lights are notoriously hit or miss. The other problem is staying awake. You can’t keep the igloo’s lights on because then you can’t see out the ceiling. That means you can’t read, either. All you can do is lie in bed, stare at the sky and force yourself to stay awake. That’s difficult after a day of skiing or dog sledding, both available through the hotel. On one night, Chuck lasted until midnight, and I was asleep an hour later.
The next night, as Chuck and I made our way to our igloo, we bumped into the two hotel employees who had been dispatched to rescue the lost British couple. One of the them pointed up to the one cloud in the sky. “See that,” she said. “That’s the beginning of the northern lights. They often start off as a little cloud.”
So Chuck and I hurried up igloo hill to get into place, but once we were up there, away from the lights of the hotel, we were able to see the full glory of the sky. The stars were the show. The sky was ablaze with stars as if each one were on a pull chain. We didn’t even go inside the igloo at first. We just stood outside, our cheeks numb from the cold, and stared at the sky. That sure looked like the Big Dipper right above our heads. It was like the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, but seemed even closer. It was the most amazing light show I had ever seen, and that was before the shooting stars began.
We figured this had to be our night for the lights. With the help of some silly video games on my iPod, I was able to stay awake until 2:30 a.m., but the only northern lights I saw were the occasional taillights from the cars receding in that direction on the nearby Arctic Sea road.
At breakfast, the employee we had bumped into on the hill asked, “So, did you see the lights?”
“No,” I said.
“You’re kidding,” she said. “When I got home at 11, they appeared above my house. But it was only for a minute. You didn’t see them?”
I think that at 11 p.m. I was looking north at the Big Dipper, not south toward her house. I had been distracted by a nature show on a different channel. Before Chuck and I left, Sonja Eiramo, the owner’s daughter who helps run the hotel, said she was sorry we had not seen the lights.
“You see, they are very unpredictable,” she said. “They were very active in late August, though.”
I would like to return and try again. In August it can hit 50 degrees in Lapland. Maybe that will be warm enough to bring along my wife.