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Rendering for the Mars Ice House (image via

The first human mission to Mars is, supposedly, closer than ever, with a one-way trip to the (watery!) Red Planet scheduled for 2024. One little kink space explorers are still working out: how to create Mars habitats in which humans can live comfortably enough.

The Mars Ice House, which recently won NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge Design Competition at the New York Maker Faire, is perhaps the most promising new concept for such a habitat. Unlike the cramped little underground hovels that make up much imagined Mars architecture, the Mars Ice House is a light-filled, shell-shaped building meant to “celebrate the presence of a human habitat as a beacon of light on the Martian surface,” as designers Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office write on their website.

“Thermally separated from the habitat interior, the occupiable ‘front yard’ pocket just inside the outer shell provides a protected neutral zone that is not entirely interior or exterior; it enables the astronauts to experience the “outside” without ever donning an EVA suit.”

Its design makes use of the flowing water that was recently discovered on Mars’ surface. Essentially, it’s a giant 3D-printed igloo made from thylene tetrafuorethylene (ETFE, a high-tech plastic) and coated with a 5-cm-thick layer of ice. The ice acts as a protective layer, shielding inhabitants from radiation in Mars’ thin atmosphere. The Ice House is proposed to be located in the icy region of Alba Mons in Mars’ northern hemisphere.

“Recognizing that water is the building block to life, the team used a ‘follow the water’ approach to conceptualize, site and construct their design,” said SEArch and Clouds AO. “[Our] proposal stood out as one of the few entries not to bury the habitat beneath regolith,” which contains toxins harmful to humans, “instead mining the anticipated abundance of subsurface ice in the northern regions to create a thin vertical ice shell capable of protecting the interior habitat from radiation while celebrating life above ground.”

We look forward to seeing the Ice House on the Mars edition of Cribs.

“The habitat’s stacked levels organize core programs by activity within the lander, introducing a spectrum of private to communal interior spaces.”

“The design emerged from an imperative to bring light to the interior and to create visual connections to the landscape beyond, allowing the mind as well as the body to thrive.”

“The potential of 3D Printing with in-situ materials on Mars is significant in that we may be able to build structures without bringing heavy equipment, supplies, materials, and structures from Earth,” write the architects.

“Between the lander core and the ICE HOUSE interior, verdant plant life surrounds the inhabitants. The vertically growing hydroponic gardens serve as the recreational ‘parks’ within the habitat, disrupting the alien monotony of Mars’ landscape while also supplementing the crew’s food and oxygen. “

The SEArch/Clouds AO team received a $40,000 prize for their winning proposal. See more on the Mars Ice House here.

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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