Ice Box Challenge on East Coast Tour

You may recall that Seattle hosted an Ice Box Challenge last September as part of the Seattle Design Festival. The Challenge was a public science experiment to demonstrate the benefits of Passive House design and construction: Two boxes. One built to the Passive House standard. The other built to code minimum. One ton of ice placed in each and sealed for 3 or 4 weeks. Which box would preserve the ice better, and by how much?

The concept of the Ice Box Challenge began in Brussels, Belgium, as part of an educational campaign leading up to that city’s incorporation of Passive House into building code. It was replicated in Vancouver, BC (another city using Passive House to achieve its climate action goals) last summer. NK Architects’ Brittany Porter and team, with lots of help from the City of Vancouver and the British Columbian Passive House community (led by Ice Box Challenge hero, Shaun St-Amour), brought the Vancouver boxes to Seattle on behalf of Passive House Northwest. After three weeks on display, the remaining ice in the Passive House box was 4 times larger than the remaining ice in the code box.


After their sojourn in Seattle, the boxes traveled to Portland to be stored for an upcoming display there, organized by Birdsmouth Construction. But in the meantime, New York City set it sights on the boxes, and a whirlwind East Coast Tour was born. 

Oli-B painting the Ice Boxes
Belgian street artist Oli-B at work (photo courtesy Brussels Capital-Region)

With logistics support form NK’s founding principal Brandon Nicholson and the tireless Alyssa Swisher in our Pittsburgh office, the boxes made the cross-country trek and arrived in the bright lights of the big city of New York this May. Belgian street artist Oli-B flew in to paint the boxes, transforming them into a colorful commentary on two alternate futures. They beg the question: will we, collectively, seize the opportunity to act on climate through our buildings?

The Ice Boxes in NYC's Garment District
The Ice Boxes in NYC's Garment District (photo credit synlawn)

The boxes spent a full month on display in the Garment District, a short distance from Times Square. Over 200,000 passersby viewed the boxes during the NYC Ice Box Challenge. The “Ice Reveal” unveiling ceremony, which coincided with the Brussels Days celebration in NYC, uncovered remarkable results. 

The Ice Reveal event in NYC
The Ice Reveal event in NYC (photo credit Shaun St-Amour)

The ice that remained in the Passive House box was still at 756 pounds, or 42% its original size. The ice in the code box? Just 126 pounds remained, or 7% its original size. 

The result in NYC, before vs. after
The result in NYC, before vs. after (photos courtesy Steven Winters Associates)

Physics and building science for the win!

Fast forward a couple weeks and the boxes are now residing in Philadelphia at Penn State’s Navy Yard. What will the Ice Reveal show this time? Check out the Ice Box Challenge East Coast website for a live feed of interior and exterior temperature data for the boxes. 

Ice Boxes at Penn State at The Navy Yard
Ice Boxes at Penn State at The Navy Yard (photo credit Kristen Footo)

After Philly, the boxes will travel to Farragut Square in Washington (DC), then on to PPG Plaza in Pittsburgh, out to Portland, Oregon, and then back to Chicago for the final 2018 iteration of the Challenge. That is a lot of Passive House awareness raising in a bunch of big cities.

Shaun St-Amour helps Philadelphia team set up Ice Box Challenge
Shaun St-Amour helps Philadelphia team set up Ice Box Challenge (photo credit JOE Black Media)

So many volunteers and organizations have been involved in passing the Ice Box Challenge torch from city to city. Check out the websites for the Ice Box Challenges in Vancouver, Seattle, NYC, and East Coast for details.

We at NK Architects are very proud to join Rockwool, SIGA, and Cascadia Windows as Champion Sponsors of the East Coast Tour of the Ice Box Challenge.

Ice Box Challenge reveal event in NYC
Ice Box Challenge reveal event in NYC (photo courtesy of Brussels Capital-Region)

P.S. Other Ice Box Challenges are popping up as well, including on in Oakland, CA last fall, and one right now in France, to name just two.