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While Elsa's ice magic is aesthetically effective on a superficial architectural level, the choice of ice as a fundamental building material presents a number of practical difficulties. How, for example, does Elsa's construction manage its water supply? Pipes of ice would freeze the liquid they were made to transport. How does she dispose of sewage? How does she cook food when the introduction of heat would melt the building?

All these questions were posed to me by my precocious six-year-old daughter. My son, who wants to be an architect, now taunts us about it every time we watch Frozen. Does anyone have any possible solutions, in or out of canon?

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Note that she is an Ice Queen, not an Ice Architect. The palace is a showcase of her skills rather than somewhere to live, long - term. –  Richard Aug 20 at 10:18
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If you want a real world example of how it can work, you can always check out en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icehotel_(Jukkasj%C3%A4rvi) . According to the article, more or less everything is made from ice/snow, but there is no plumbing inside the hotel. –  Leo Aug 20 at 16:25
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My initial response for anything about how something involving magic works is fairly straightforward: "It's magic." –  Ellesedil Aug 20 at 17:49
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Smart Kids. Good Answer @Ellesedil –  Malachi Aug 20 at 22:11
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If a building is cold enough you can certainly cook in it. Inuit would routinely cook (and light with a warm lamp) their igloos and internal temperatures were often above freezing. If the palace is really cold, an isolate fire to cook on should not make much difference (with a bit of care being taken about it). –  Francis Davey Aug 21 at 10:24

7 Answers 7

up vote 35 down vote accepted

If you consider the technological state of Frozen to the late medieval period, you'll find that these questions are largely not problems.

In medieval castles, you pooped (sorry, disposed of sewage) into a hole in the wall. Covered with appropriate furnishings, but basically its a hole in the wall. Some peasant had the unenviable task of coming along to the base of the castle walls to shovel it up and take it away for (presumably) crop fertiliser.

Food was also cooked elsewhere in the castle and brought to table. The high risk of fire in those days where most things were made of wood and cloth, with lots of flammable materials such as straw and hay for livestock were lying around meant your kitchens were built reasonably far away from the main hall. Sure, this does raise the issue of heating in an ice palace where deep-set, stone fireplaces were used, but I guess anyone living in an ice palace wouldn't feel the cold like most.

Water supply would also have not been piped running water, but brought to where needed in jugs, sourced from a well. Hot water would have been heated in the communal kitchen and brought to you.

If your son wants to be an architect, you should encourage him to come up with solutions to these problems, not taunts! One day he might be the most famous architect of all Norway for his imaginative architecture

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Excellent points!This is certainly the argument I will use next time we watch Frozen (which will be shortly if precedent is anything to go by). –  Cugel Aug 21 at 9:28
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I don't think this answer fits with the time period that Frozen is set it. Unless her idea of a well-designed castle is from 200 years earlier, obviously. –  Richard Aug 21 at 9:47
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Windsor Castle has been extensively renovated to include indoor plumbing. A castle from the mid 1800's most certainly would not have a garderobe as you've described, any more than it would have arrow slits. –  Richard Aug 21 at 10:20
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Windsor castle has arrow slits, and practical flushing toilet wasn't invented until relatively recently. In the early 1800s (snow queen was published in 1844), people would have been using chamber pots and commodes. Most folk tales are set earlier than published and castles were built much earlier so much of its infrastructure would not be 'modern' in any sense. Which is the whole point of the answer - she didn't have modern plumbing (of ice or not) because its not set in the modern day. –  gbjbaanb Aug 21 at 10:38
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@gbjbaanb - But that's the point. Since Frozen seems to be set in the 1800's(ish), arrow slits and garderobes are anachronistic to the setting. –  Richard Aug 21 at 14:51

Practical Architecture

The original concept art for Frozen shows a few additional features that were ultimately removed from the film:

Bedroom
enter image description here

Throne Room
enter image description here

Food

Idina Menzel (the actress who voiced Elsa) stated in a recent web Q+A that the Queen eats "Soy ice cream sandwiches".

Marina Vickery : What does Elsa eat in her ice castle? Serious question lol my son wants to know

Idina Menzel : Elsa eats soy ice cream sandwiches.

Drink

It seems reasonable that she could simply melt some snow when she gets thirsty.


(ahem) Pooping

History doesn't record where the Ice Queen poops but I suspect that there's an ice toilet somewhere in the palace, complete with an ice bidet. Well, she did say that the cold doesn't bother her...

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+1 for last line in specific –  sight ward Aug 20 at 11:16
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@sightward - or some sort of ice scraper 😨 –  Richard Aug 20 at 13:09
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She wishes the soy into existence? That might be a pretty lucrative power to get some cash flow into her kingdom, what with Weaseltown no longer welcome to trade there. –  Shisa Aug 20 at 17:10
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Is it really reasonable that she could simply melt some snow when she gets thirsty? Actually, melting was the thing she had problems with… –  Holger Aug 21 at 8:06
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There are three ice seashells for cleanup –  Jason Aug 21 at 19:22

Many fairy tales mention that ice, created by magic, especially evil one, does not melt from simple heat. Or may be Ice Queen has body temperature below zero. Any of which would make ice the perfect building material.
In reality, lying covered with snow, or even better, in a tight hole in snow, is much warmer than on the surface of the snow at night. Both animals and travellers know that.
Then, ordinary humans resting release only 60 joules of heat per second. And you need 1 500 000 joules to melt 5 kg of ice. So you will not damage ice castle. The more interesting question is how to protect either yourself from cold air or small items from warm air. There are some chemicals, that look and behave like ice, but freeze at different temperatures.
Finally, if ice was created and kept under enormous pressure, it can withstand temperatures up to 400C. May be Ice Queen knows how to make that ice without pressure?

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Elsa makes magic snow that can come alive and bring eternal winter, I don't think making a snow castle last would be a problem. Plus cold doesn't bother her, anyway... –  Shisa Aug 20 at 17:14
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And ice that does not melt does not hurt you or freeze you. And is not slippery. It will be indistinguishable from polycarbonate, except for bubbles may be. –  Barafu Albino Aug 20 at 17:23
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Olaf melts from simple heat. –  Tim S. Aug 20 at 18:01
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Castle is not made from Olaf. –  Barafu Albino Aug 20 at 18:14
    
While the ice queen is in her castle, there's nothing to stop her from actively cooling it. –  Brilliand Aug 20 at 19:04

Elsa could have dealt with the food issue by conjuring up snow cones and ice cream, or making snowmen to hunt and gather for her. It's possible that she may not have gotten hungry yet when Anna came to visit. Sure, it had been a couple of days, but (a) she could have over-indulged at her coronation dinner, and (b) she may have a lower body temperature than normal humans, and thus not need to eat as much.

But in general, I think the best explanation is that Elsa wasn't thinking long-term. Running away from Arendelle and building the ice palace was an impulsive decision, and she was too blinded by the euphoria of being “free” to think too hard about mundane concerns like maintaining a septic system, or even official-izing her abdication from the throne of Arendelle.

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Remember snow cones and ice cream are not part of a healthy balanced diet no matter how much we want them to be. –  gbjbaanb Aug 21 at 15:04
    
@gbjbaanb: pretty much anything can be part of a healthy balanced diet, that's the whole fun of being an omnivore. The asterisk "as part of a balanced diet" might as well mean "this is pure junk food". Even palaeolithic man sometimes ran across honey ;-) –  Steve Jessop Aug 22 at 10:56

If you recall the ending, there is an obvious canonical solution. She simply has to project love onto whatever she wants to thaw. For full effectiveness, it is recommended to direct the love toward indoor plumbing in general, not the sewage itself. As far as cooking goes, she would just have to keep putting energy into keeping the surroundings from thawing. Apparently her abilities allow her to do this with no conscious effort, or else Arendelle would have started to thaw naturally after she left.

As a thought exercise for your son, consider that your freezer is likely close to your oven. Ask him why the ice in the freezer doesn't melt when the stove is on and how the ice maker manages to be supplied with water. It's a combination of insulation and continuous input of energy to transfer the heat. In something made purely of ice, the energy input would be the dominant factor.

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So she just has to really love washing her hands? –  Richard Aug 23 at 18:16

Let's take the idea of practical magic and run with it, shall we? A quick glance into Thermodynamics allows us to see that there is no such thing as "cold", just lack of heat. Elsa (and Frozone, and Iceman, etc) can NOT actually "project" ice and cold. Instead, she has a magical ability to selectively absorb energy from her environment. Control over this energy absorption can lead her to be able to create ice sculptures as long as there is water in the air to condense. Remember when she took her gloves off and held the metal objects for the Queen ceremony? Water immediately began condensing and freezing on the metal surface, because metal is a good conductor. It stands to reason someone who has this ability would likely have conductive objects have energy drawn from them faster, especially via contact.

I'm building up to the following answer: Elsa can, in fact, rely upon her magic to not need to worry about solid waste removal, water collection, and food preparation. She is taking the energy out of the environment, and it's gotta go somewhere. Likely she is absorbing it directly in to herself (she was locked in a room with no visitors for many years since her parents croaked, the guards were not allowed to visit). She is, in essence, "eating" the energy she requires right out of the environment itself, so it stands to reason that she wouldn't get hungry. And, if she is not consuming solid foods in any way, there's no reason for her to need a system for solid waste removal. Her water intake can be explained by water in the air directly condensing in her lungs (also, she can condense large quantities of water right out of the air, so more if necessary is available on demand), at a rate which can be absorbed into her blood stream, leaving only the issue of liquid waste removal. Due to her unique metabolic situation (she absorbs energy from her environment) there is likely less waste and more efficiency. But as an engineer, I'm not going to handwave this away with magic, because Thermodynamics might explain the reason for everything else, but Thermo also says the scant waste has to go SOMEWHERE. So, Ice Chamber Pot for peeing, and that's it.

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How does her ability to control thermodynamics explain her ability to make dresses (or animated snowmen)? –  Richard Aug 23 at 18:17

Elsa and her Ice Palace are not governed by the laws of nature, but instead by the vivid imagination of Disney artists.

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