Art

Antarctic Architecture and Extreme Weather Design

The British Antarctic Survey's Halley VI
The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI (all images courtesy the British Council)

It’s been just over a century since Roald Amundsen and his party became the first people to stand at the South Pole, and while they shivered and suffered from frostbite in tents and sleeping bags, the current explorers of Antarctica are dwelling in architecture that confronts the extremes of the southernmost continent, taking innovative approaches to environmental design. The architecture of Antarctica may also be a model for how to live in weather extremes of other parts of the planet, or even another world.

To look at the contemporary architecture evolving on Antarctica, the British Council teamed up with curators from the Arts Catalyst for a traveling exhibition called Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica. It first opens at Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, the Lighthouse, and then travels to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry before going on a world tour.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station (photograph by René Robert/International Polar Foundation)
Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station (photograph by René Robert/International Polar Foundation)

The exhibition focuses on both existing structures and conceptual ones, as well as what it’s like for the scientists and researchers to live there. All the modernist designs by necessity have to sustain temperatures as low as 55 degrees below Celsius, as well as blizzards with their high force winds. And they have to be environmentally intelligent for their icy surroundings. For example, there’s the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI, the world’s first relocatable research station, which became completely operational this February. Its raised legs combat the accumulation of snow and its connected modules can rove around independently. There’s also the Belgian International Polar Foundation’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctic that is the first zero-emission station, with its layered design eliminating the need for internal heat. And then there’s the Bharathi Research Station from India that is made from over a hundred prefabricated shipping containers.

MAP Architects' design for the Iceberg Living Station
MAP Architects’ design for the Iceberg Living Station

Then there are those that have yet to be built, such as the purely speculative Iceberg Living Station by Denmark-based MAP Architects where you could burrow a station into an iceberg rather than build anything on the ice. Yet even this conceptual design has interesting ideas on how to adapt to environments that just weren’t made for delicate humans.  The exhibition also comes along a broader discussion on extreme weather architecture in the wake of such natural disasters as Hurricane Sandy, the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, and the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Several recent architecture competitions have taken a particular focus on extreme weather architecture, such as the 3C Competititon on coastal community on the Atlantic Coast solutions, AIA’s Designing Recovery post-disaster housing competition, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Develpment’s Rebuild by Design for the Sandy-impacted area. Who knows, the designs for Antarctica, whose conditions are almost as alien to us as another planet, could even be models for developments someday on a place as far-flung as Mars where winds and and an environment that has little to sustain people are major obstacles to habitation (not to mention the long journey there).

Korea's planned Jang Bogo Station
Korea’s planned Jang Bogo Station
The Bharati at night
India’s Bharati station at night
The Bharati research station, under construction
The Bharati research station, under construction

Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica opens July 26 at Architecture and Design Scotland, The Lighthouse (11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, Scotland).

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