In Longyearbyen, the world's northernmost town on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a winter night can last up to four months. It is here that an assemblage of small, pitched-roof houses painted in bright colors break up the wash of whites and grays that make up the surrounding frozen landscape and Arctic Sea.
From the slope of an ice-covered mountain overlooking the sleepy town, another structure cuts through the topography that appears decidedly more protected and sturdy: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Conceived as a fail-proof storage facility built to withstand virtually any kind of global disaster, the vault is a highly safeguarded structure that contains duplicates of the world's seed samples, ready to jumpstart food production in the event of doomsday.
To keep the food supply of a post-apocalyptic future secure, the physical vault is buried deep in the mountain bedroom, accessible only by a 320-foot-long tunnel. The only visible part of the seed repository is its entrance — a narrow "fin" of concrete and brushed steel.
From the outside, the entrance gives no indication of what's protected within the chamber-like facility. The design evokes a contemporary observation tower looking out toward the sea, with sharp lines and hard angles that present a contrast to the rocky terrain. Yet, the texture and color of the materials appropriately reflects the context.
Above the entrance and on the roof, an illuminated piece of public art emits a soft glow during the area's lengthy nights of intense darkness. From a distance, the art installation's luminescence could be confused for the Arctic's famous Northern Lights.
Temperatures within the vault tend to reflect the conditions outside — meaning, it's cold enough to keep the nearly 4.5 million seed samples viable for 2,000 to 20,000 years. Additionally, its location within Longyearbyen was strategically chosen for its ability to resist a number of disaster scenarios. The tectonically stable region is protected from earthquakes, while the permafrost landscape can keep the seeds refrigerated in the event of power failure (at least, until global warming melts the permafrost). Rising sea levels might flood the town, but would not reach the vault's elevated location, even if all the polar ice caps melt.