Shaped like a whale, this "public mammal" or "sea monster," is not only elegant and arresting to the eye, but also highly efficient. Recently opened in the Belgian city of Liege—capital of French speaking Wallonia—it boasts 200,000 aluminum tiles (like scales) on its exterior, an insulation factor of a passive house, and a heating and ventilation system that recycles energy, and carries away unused heat to a shopping center nearby. It is also practically sound-proof, with a noise level of approximately 50 decibels. That’s about as harsh on the neighborhood as lightly falling rain.
There are plenty of iconic ice rinks around the world, from the Rockefeller Center at Christmas time, to this stunning design from Sweden. But surely none shaped like an attractive mass of bulbous blubber.
"The rounded shape of the building first came from the metaphor of an ice cube," says David Crambert, of L’Escaut Architectures. "The mammal atmosphere came during the design process. We realized bit by bit that the big window was becoming an eye and that the parking entrance could be seen as a mouth. Then we made a few twists to fully admit the resemblance. Adding the scales coating was part of it, but with a humorous distance. A whale doesn’t really have scales."
Crambert says 9.5-inch-thick insulation and minimal windows limit the loss of "cold waste," while the gray outside prevents heat accumulating. The heat from two large ice compressing units is captured and used for hot water and air conditioning. And, cleverly, the rink has different temperature zones: one at 46 degrees Fahrenheit on the ice, and another 60 degrees in the seating area and cafe. Meanwhile, the Olympic-sized rink has 1,200 seats, and room for 12 man-sized hockey players, or 1,800 members of the skating public.
"The idea was also to design a very distinguished shape that people would identify easily. The project required a strong and clear architectural gesture," says Crambert. Looks like they succeeded.