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Developing the world’s first energy-positive hotel

A luxury hotel at the base of Norway’s Svartisen glacier has bold ambitions to generate more energy than it consumes within five years of opening

Author:

  • Gela Pertusini

11 February 2022

Aerial render of Svart

Images courtesy of Svart

The base of the Svartisen glacier in the far north of Norway seems an unlikely spot for a luxury hotel and, even less so, a ground-breakingly innovative one that will use a dizzying array of technology and smart design to make it the first energy-positive hotel in the world.

Yet this is the plan that the architect and hotel developer, Ivaylo Lefterov, is describing: the Svart, a 94-room circular glass structure that will hover over the sparkling waters of the Holandsfjorden, providing a wellness and outdoors adventure hub in the Nordland wilderness.

“With hotels, you have such big consumption when it comes to energy and waste that you can really explore those particular elements… We want to showcase what can be done, to show that not just hotels but any building can be made energy-positive with the right approach,” says Lefterov.

Lefterov, who is Bulgarian by birth, Californian by upbringing and has spent a couple of decades developing hotels in Las Vegas, London and South Africa, was invited to become a consultant on the Svart four years ago. A few years before that, Jan-Gunnar Mathisen, the CEO of an Oslo-based tech company, MIRIS, took his teenage sons on holiday to the area near the site of the hotel and they all fell in love with the place. Shortly afterwards, back in Oslo, Mathisen was approached by a Nordland local who wanted to develop the site. A deal was struck and plans passed to build a hotel that would use the company’s technology to push the sustainability envelope.

It all sounds very straightforward and full of Scandinavian pragmatism – yes, the hotel is a large, attention-seeking structure in an extraordinarily beautiful, national park setting but planners balanced the benefits that it would bring to the local economy against the possible visual disruption. But when Lefterov became involved, he felt that MIRIS was missing a trick, that the green initiatives were not green enough, that they could potentially border on greenwashing and that the hotel could be so much more than Mathisen realised. The company parted ways with its original architecture practice and hired a new firm that, with Lefterov, is overseeing the way the hotel will operate as a sustainable destination.

Surprisingly, for a building that plans to be energy-positive within five years of opening, there doesn’t seem to be any never-before-seen technology. “We're connecting the dots from all these different things that already exist,” says Lefterov. This takes the form of producing enough solar energy during the long Arctic summer days to offset energy consumption during the dark Arctic winters; of micro-managing every watt of wasted energy so that it can be captured and reused; using the neighbourhood farm and the fjord for much of its food production (mussels will be farmed along the hotel’s stilts, for example) with plans for 80% of food to come from a 50-mile radius; and extremely enthusiastic composting.

The Svart hotel will be a 10-hour train journey or 11-hour drive north from Trondheim, the nearest city - which, if nothing else, gives one a new appreciation of the size of Norway - but Lefterov claims that simply staying there will offset any carbon derived from his guests’ journeys.

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The glacier behind the Svart

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Inside the glacier

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It all sounds wonderful but currently there is nothing to measure his claims against as ground has not been broken on the project. The hotel was originally slated to open this summer but COVID-19 got in the way and it has now been delayed until late 2023. The structure will largely be built from prefabricated modules which are in factories, ready to go, spring thaw and Norwegian lockdown permitting.

The project will cost in the region of €100m and Lefterov anticipates a room rate of between €750 and €1,500 – “not that high compared to London,” he says.

He promises that the Svart will cast off the hemp and bare wood aesthetic that we have come to associate with the green movement. “When you talk about eco [and Scandinavian], people think of IKEA and that very simplistic look but we will have luxury at a totally different level. Incredible luxury, 100% sustainable but very simple, very elegant, very warm.” To that end, he has engaged designers Space Copenhagen – specialists in understated and enticing.

Perhaps the reason that Lefterov is so keen to get this blend of luxury and sustainability just right is because there is a strong streak of the environmental evangelist in him. He doesn’t just want guests to enjoy their stay, he wants them to learn from the Svart and adopt aspects of it in their own homes and businesses.

He mentions more than once that the intention is to lead the Svart’s clients by example and make them see that sustainability doesn’t need to come with a hair shirt. “And what better way than when you go on holiday, not by being bored by lectures and so forth, but through a real, engaging experience?”

 

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“With hotels, you have such big consumption when it comes to energy and waste” Ivaylo Lefterov, architect and hotel developer

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