The Halley VI station on the Antartic ice sheet, designed by Hugh Broughton Architects

The Halley VI station on the Antartic ice sheet, designed by Hugh Broughton Architects

Credit: British Antarctic Survey


June marks the start of winter for half of the world. But while Americans sample gelato and sprawl on beaches, researchers and staff at the Halley VI station huddle inside colorful pods, longing for the sight of daylight. When you’re positioned on the Antarctic ice sheet, indoors is the place to be. The pods are not only shelter from the brutal cold, but they’re also architectural marvels.

“Think of it like a ship or an aircraft or a space station,” says Hugh Broughton, director of London-based Hugh Broughton Architects (HBA), which built Halley VI. From siting to material selection and maintenance, architecture in the extreme cold is indeed a different world.

The interior of the Halley VI station uses a bright color palette.

The interior of the Halley VI station uses a bright color palette.

Credit: James Morris

For starters, the project is sited on 150 feet of ice, beneath which is the ocean. Rather than dig in, the 16,254-square-foot Halley VI rests atop skis attached to hydraulic stilts made by Titan Engineering. The elevation helps to hold the pod above the 10- to 12-foot snowdrifts that buried and destroyed the three previous Halley research stations.

Meanwhile, at the Earth’s other pole, the Barrow Replacement Hospital on Alaska’s northernmost tip faces a different site constraint. RIM Architects and HDR had to design the 100,000-square-foot hospital on permafrost—or ground that stays frozen year-round. Should the building, when in operation, inadvertently melt the ground, it will sink, says James Dougherty, AIA, RIM’s managing principal. Consequently, Barrow also sits on stilts, rising 4 feet high.

The interior walls of the Halley VI station are coated with a scented Lebanes cedar veneer to mitigate the region's lack of vegetation.

The interior walls of the Halley VI station are coated with a scented Lebanes cedar veneer to mitigate the region's lack of vegetation.

Credit: James Morris


For weather protection, Halley VI uses windows triple-glazed with Okalux’s Okagel panels, which have a U-factor of 0.113 W/K-m2. But it’s not just the cold that must be kept out. For instance, RIM oriented Barrow to align with the wind to keep snow from piling up, and minimized building seams to prevent tiny snowflakes from working their way in.

Should anything break, another problem arises: getting supplies. Access from the sea is only possible for a few months per year, so architects must minimize the different building components to simplify storage of spare parts. Lighting is limited to one, maybe two, lamp types, which are used instead of multiple types. Equipment, such as boilers and generators, must have replacement parts and repair resources nearby. “[A] vehicle mechanic is retained on the site to look after the bulldozers, and they use hydraulics,” Broughton says. “[So] we chose hydraulics.”


Bright colors and high-performance windows inside the Halley VI station.

Bright colors and high-performance windows inside the Halley VI station.

Credit: James Morris


A Senseless World
Cold-weather buildings are constantly under stress, as are the occupants inside. Designers must replace the sensory input that long winters and constant darkness devour. For Halley VI residents, Hugh Broughton invented an alarm clock that gradually glows to simulate the breaking dawn. He also coated interior walls with scented Lebanese cedar veneer by Shadbolt International to mitigate the region’s lack of vegetation.

To create a welcoming space for researchers, who spend an average of 15 months at the station, HBA brought in a color psychologist. Similarly, the designers of the Barrow Replacement Hospital seriously considered colors too. Both projects utilize a bright palette full of intense reds and greens and blues for the walls and furniture. “If you live in 24 hours of darkness, your body begins to crave color,” says RIM Architects designer Molly Logelin, Assoc. AIA.