northern sky circle

northern sky circle

Architect
molo
Location
Anchorage, United States
Project Year
2009
Category
Parks/Gardens

Urban Green Spaces

northern sky circle

molo as Architects

molo collaborated with sound artist Ethan Rose to build an ephemeral outdoor room from snow; a place for contemplation, gathering and a heightened sensory experience of the northern sky.


With temperature’s plummeting to -30 Celsius, construction began in the pitch dark of New Year’s morning. The main challenge was improvising a construction method to work with the variable consistencies of snow, mixed with gravel and sand and ploughed from parking lots. The snow was piled loosely into formwork where it sintered into a solid mass. Playing with the formwork, using our bodies to back off or lean in, we were able to create a geology of formations and textures.


Entering the structure’s narrow opening, one felt the weight of its massive walls. The procession ahead was a mystery with only the curious clue of firewood at the entrance. At the end of the passage, walking up a set of stairs, you were faced with the openness of a circular room defined by stepped seating. Below, a roaring fire and above, the northern sky.


Strangers coming and going through the sky circle shared big, uninhibited smiles. They were sharing a physically engaging experience, a rarity in urban public space. Just the right number of people felt inclined to carry a piece of firewood from the entrance through the long passage and into the central space. Once the fire was started, the public took ownership of it and kept it going 24 hours a day. After discovering that there was this secret outdoor room in their city, many people returned, some with wine, food or friends. Impromptu storytelling sessions and food were shared around the fire and on one such occasion each person sitting in the circle took turns telling the story of what brought them to live under the northern sky.


Rose's sonic addition to the installation was a four channel sound piece composed from a mixture of environmental and instrumental sounds. To create this composition, he spent a week in Anchorage. Rose began by gathering field recordings of snow falling from tree limbs, the creaking noises of tidal ice flows and the calling of winter birds. He also worked in a studio, recording icicles dripping onto a glockenspiel and playing with snow and ice to capture resulting textures. Rose allowed the recordings to guide his compositional decisions, combining and digitally manipulating sounds alongside effected autoharp, percussion and harmonica to create a piece that reflected and responded to the wintery Alaskan landscape.

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