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Antarctic Architecture for Scientists at the Edge of the World

Bridge link between energy modules. (© James Morris)
Bridge link between energy modules (© James Morris, all images from ‘Ice Station,’ courtesy Park Books)

Antarctic exploration no longer involves frigid winters lodged in wooden shacks, or the threat of your ship being smashed to pieces in the ice with no means of communicating home. Nevertheless, a century since Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott journeyed to the southern point of the planet, Antarctica remains one of the most extreme work places in the world. And it’s an essential one, especially for atmospheric and climate science, such as the British Antarctic Survey documenting the ozone hole in 1985. In 2012, that organization launched a research station now setting a new standard for architecture in extreme environments: Halley VI.

Cover of 'Ice Station' (courtesy Park Books)
Cover of ‘Ice Station’ (courtesy Park Books) (click to enlarge)

Ice Station: The Creation of Halley VI, Britain’s Pioneering Antarctic Research Station, out now from Park Books, chronicles the design and construction of the science outpost. Accompanying text by Ruth Slavid, British photographer James Morris captures the futuristic contrast of the blue and red station against the expanse of white. Inside, scientists and the station’s support staff live in as comforting an interior possible, with wood walls and sunlight-mimicking lamps combatting isolation during the long winter months.

The previous Halleys, going back to the first, a traditional wood hut in use from 1959 to 1968, were all either buried or crushed by the snow that accumulates because of high winds. Adding to the cold temperatures that can dip to -50°C [-58°F], the Halleys are on the Brunt Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea, which means that they are detached from the Antarctica land mass and constantly shifting. Designed for the British Antarctic Survey by Hugh Broughton Architects and AECOM, who won an international competition by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Halley VI can be lifted up, placed on skis, and relocated.

Pages from 'Ice Station' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Ice Station’ (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from 'Ice Station' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Ice Station’ showing the relocation of Halley VI (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)

Alongside Morris’s photographs, diagrams and sketches give a full view of all the modular station’s components, from cockpit roof lights where residents can view the auroral lights in the winter, to the social module with its bar lounge (likely an equally essential winter feature). As Halley VI impacts future Antarctic architecture, such as the Korean Polar Research Institute also by Hugh Broughton Architects and AECOM, it can also be a model for structures in other extreme corners of the world, as well as potential habitations on the moon or even Mars.

As Ruth Slavid writes in Ice Station, it “has changed thinking about building in the Antarctic and other remote places; it has taught all those involved in its construction an enormous amount; and it has ensured that there will be a good environment in which Antarctic science can continue to develop in the future in ways that cannot be foreseen.”

Red double-height social module at the heart of the station. (© James Morris)
Red double-height social module at the heart of the station (© James Morris)
Entrance to the science modules. (© James Morris)
Entrance to the science modules (© James Morris)
Upper-level climate observatory with 360 ̊ views of the Brunt Ice Shelf. (© James Morris)
Upper-level climate observatory with 360 ̊ views of the Brunt Ice Shelf (© James Morris)
The social module has a flexible, open plan layout, which encourages social interaction. (© James Morris)
The social module has a flexible, open plan layout, which encourages social interaction. (© James Morris)
Bedroom interior (© James Morris)
Bedroom interior (© James Morris)
Double-height space at the heart of the social module. (© James Morris)
Double-height space at the heart of the social module (© James Morris)
Halley VI with science modules to the left, the red social module in the centre and habitat modules to the right. (© James Morris)
Halley VI with science modules to the left, the red social module in the centre and habitat modules to the right (© James Morris)

Ice Station: The Creation of Halley VI, Britain’s Pioneering Antarctic Research Station, with text by Ruth Slavid and photographs by James Morris, is out now from Park Books.

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