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Svalbard Global Seed Vault - Doomsday Saviour

Words:

Edd Norval
May 10, 2021

Svalbard is a sparsely populated Norwegian archipelago that sits isolated in one of the world’s coldest regions. Renowned for its stunning arctic beauty, almost untouched by man, Svalbard is a largely barren snowswept landscape that houses one of the most important buildings in the world. 

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If a huge pandemic took hold of the world, sort of like the one we’re in now, except more towards the fantasy of film, where would you want to be? I’m talking about zombies here, the kind that you don’t want to be sharing an apartment block with, or anything else really. Most people would choose somewhere isolated where they can still subside until the thing hopefully passes over. Svalbard should be the top destination.


Although this situation sounds hypothetical, it is for something very similar (natural disasters, war etc) that the location of the Norwegian archipelago was chosen to house the seeds of almost all species known to man so as to give the world a fighting chance at recuperation should an apocalyptic event take place. 


Opening its doors in 2008 to researchers, the vault’s architectural design and construction is a marvel of engineering and human endeavour, considering the unfavourable weather conditions and geography of the land that it was constructed on for two years. An iconic building, owing as much to the futurist philosophy of Blade Runner as it does to much-loved Instagram Brutalism, only a nose of the building pokes through the otherwise uninterrupted landscape, a subtle hint of what may lie within.

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Built into the sandstone rock face, the seedbank is situated in an area with low levels of tectonic activity as well as layers of permafrost which aid the stability and conditions necessary for the Noah’s Ark of organic matter. The building is a piece of art itself, its utilitarian design holding a unique Bond villain aesthetic. However, there’s intentional art in there too.


A piece titled ‘Perpetual Repercussion’ by Dyveke Sanne runs the length of the inner walkway. This atmospheric piece of work illuminates under the summer month’s midnight sun, with reflective shards of mirrored materials allowing the light to dance and identify the presence of the vault. During the winter, with no sun present, fibre optic cables provide the prismatic light like a rare gemstone in an otherwise monotone landscape. 


With more than one million strains present in the storage sections of the vault, 13,000 years of agricultural endeavour is safely stored away in a unit capable of withstanding nuclear warfare. This building epitomises the foresight of humans who are willing to push engineering and exploration as far as possible in the name of human good.

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On the flip side, the fact that there is a need for such a place provokes us to reflect on the precarious nature of our existence and the capabilities of man to instantly wipe out what has taken so many centuries to develop. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is housed in a politically stable region, which has made it the logical mother of all of the world’s gene banks. 


Historically, seed banks in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have all been decimated through conflict. The Svalbard vault offers a glimmer of hope, an oasis in a snowy desert, with its illuminated exterior carrying biblical and mythological connotations of a guiding light. It is a building with an inredibly important purpose - one that it'll hopefully never be called upon to realise.

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