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Jun 07, 2014 04:21 AM EDT

Dutch Students to Build Barcelona's Sagrada Familia from Ice and Saw Dust

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Dutch students are on the verge of creating a world record yet again by building a model of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia basilica from pykrete - ice reinforced with wood fibers.

A team of over 50 Eindhoven University of Technology faculty and students will begin construction of the 40-meter (131-ft)-high model starting late this December in northern Finland and they plan to finish the challenge in just three weeks. It is the same site where the team built a record-breaking ice dome, last winter.

"We could have just decided to build another, even larger, dome", TU/e lecturer and project leader Arno Pronk said in a statement. "But in building terms the Sagrada Familia is a much bigger challenge."

The construction process will involve spraying a thin layer of snow over large, inflated molds followed by another layer of water containing 10 percent sawdust. That water/sawdust mix gets absorbed into the snow and eventually freezes, forming a material known as pykrete.

Once the molds are deflated and removed, the pykrete shell is left standing on its own support. The resulting wood fiber content in pykrete makes the material three times stronger and tougher than pure ice.

"The structures in the work of the architect Gaudí are scientifically the most interesting", Pronk said. "And although the ice building will have the same shape as the Sagrada Familia, it won't have the same decorative exterior."

One of the aims of the challenge is to display pykrete's ability as an excellent building material for temporary structures.

"You can use it to build thin-walled temporary structures that are safe and low-cost" said Pronk. "Our technique enables environment-friendly applications such as seasonal storage in agriculture, the offshore industry and expeditions, as well as for recreational facilities like ice hotels."

Pykrete's use was proposed for the first time during World War II by journalist-turned-scientist Geoffrey Pyke to the British Royal Navy as a response to the steel shortage.

Pyke said that it was a candidate material for making huge, bulletproof, unsinkable aircraft carriers. The project masked under the codename Habbakuk (a misspelling of the Biblical book Habakkuk) received green signal from former British Prime Minsiter Winston Churchill, Discovery reports.

Other alternative solutions to practical problems emerged during World War II including pigeon-guided missiles and shark repellent among others, io9 reports.

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