Monumental Ice/Snow structure built
at the Lower Campus of McGill University
to celebrate the
School of Architecture's Centenary
as well as
McGill University's 175th anniversary

Interior Curve 
The exterior of the Snow/Ice Pantheon                       The carved entrance to the Ice Pantheon.                     The computer model

  Centennial School of Architecture group photo
(more than 125 staff and students in the picture!)

Group Photo
"Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver"
Gilles Vigneault

Drawing of Pantheon

Pantheon Redux

now of snow, and ice; scaled down, sure-
and the gods have stepped away from their niches.
The frieze will cloud in the spring sun,
the dome become water, earth, grass
beneath the feet of generations,
who yet may meet the builder, the absent heroes,

John Dixon,
Spring 1996

Building on a tradition dating back to the 1880's, and an ongoing McGill Architecture tradition (see pictures of ice structures built during the 1970's), staff and students at the School of Architecture celebrated the School's Centenary as well as the University's 175th anniversary by constructing an 'interpretation' of the Pantheon in Rome at a scale of approximately one to five. In its final form, the "Pantheon in ice/snow" consisted of a 32.7 foot diameter domed meeting space, 32.7 foot high, with a 6 foot circular oculus. The structure was accessed through a entrance crowned by a classical pediment beautifully sculpted by Professor David Covo, who managed to carve an artful grouping of 3D images of the Macdonald-Harrington building, the Engineering Library, the Ice Pantheon as well as a several figures in the restricted space. (see the image above). In the McGill Reporter of January 11 Eric Smith gave an accurate account of the construction process.


Unlike most historical ice structures which were built to be exclusively looked at, the Ice Pantheon was design to be experienced from within, as was its progenitor. (image to come). The space was opened formally by Principal Bernard Shapiro and Chancellor Gretta Chambers on January 26 and acted the same day as a restaurant and a venue for a Jazz concert in honour of The University'as 175th and Winter Carnival. The Pantheon splendidly accommodated the opening ceremonies for the Centenary of The School of Architecture on February 2, (image to come). The rock concert by the group "The Snitches" had to be moved indoors because the amplifiers refused to work in the -15C temperatures. A lecture on Roman Architecture by Professor Annmarie Adams was partly given inside the dome to explain the structure of the original Pantheon. The structure's most fervent supporters were, however, the thousands of people who visited 'just of the street'. Day and night there was a steady stream of them, and the structure got a bit of a reputation as a good place for winter-romance, particularly when the full moon shone through the occulus.
Throughout March the dome was left standing, a bit battered and bruised, like a boxer in the 15th round, elegantly encircled by the security snow fence. (image to come)
Finally, the day before Good Friday the romantic ruin was torn down by the same frontloader that put the snow in the forms three months earlier.

Construction Method

The construction system employed was analogous to methods used in adobe construction, such as the pise method in Southern France. Plywood forms were used over and over again, resting on previously cast material, leaving behind the tell-tale holes in the wall created by the two-by-fours which tied the inside and outside forms. The Ice Pantheon was constructed of pure snow, which was more plentiful this winter than at almost any time in memory. The snow was collected by a frontloader from the campus, and shovelled, hoisted or blown into place.  By injecting the snow with water a very strong snow/ice mixture was produced, in texture and properties not unlike roman concrete.


The walls of the structure were four foot thick, while the dome tapered in thickness from over four feet at the perimeter to one foot at the oculus. The outside diameter was 40.7 feet, the clear inside span and height of  32.7 feet.. As with the original Pantheon, the inside of the Ice Pantheon could hold a perfect sphere.  About 15,000 cubic feet of snow was  used, which, after watering weighed about 400 tons. The porch's snow and ice weighed another fifty tons, bringing the gross weight of the structure to about 450 tons.


The seven interior niches, used in the Roman Pantheon for altars to the Gods, were carved out by students in the second year Design Studio, with the help of some volunteers from the School and other departments of the University. The five rings of twenty eight recesses in the domed roof were to be carved into the ice/snow dome, but time ran out, and the dome remained smooth. (image to come)

  Images: Construction Exterior detail

 Ice Pantheon images by Dirk Hoeltje: here.

For a recent article on ice structures in "The Fifth Column" click "The Architecture of Phase Change"
MicGill Reporter:

Ice Structure/Site Credits and Sponsors

Latest developments:

An overview of Ice Research at McGill since the 1970's

Making Ice structures using robots- look here:

This page last updated Feb 15 2008