Perhaps one of the most striking images from last year was the New York magazine cover of Manhattan blanketed in darkness. The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy left the city's residents as well as city leaders with one overarching question: How can we design stronger, more resilient structures to withstand the increasingly severe climates?
That kind of resilient building technology is already opening up Antarctica, one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. Each year, teams of researchers brave the below-freezing temperatures and night skies that last for months, relying on brightly-painted rooms as well as large quantities of alcohol to maintain good spirits. As Rose Eveleth wrote in ARCHITECT in June, "architecture in the extreme cold is indeed a different world."
A new exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester, United Kingdom, highlights five designs for structures near the South Pole. The exhibition, "Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica," now on view at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, Scotland, opens in October during the Manchester Science Festival as the second leg in an international tour.
The exhibition was commissioned by the British Council and the U.K. art organization, the Arts Catalyst. Vicky Richardson, the director for architecture, design, and fashion, at the British Council, notes in an email that the increasing research in Antarctica has produced "a new era" of construction on the continent.
"It's obviously uniquely challenging to build in such a harsh climate, but I think the projects show the potential of design in overcoming huge obstacles to make it possible for humans to inhabit extreme environments," she writes.
The featured projects in the exhibition demonstrate this kind of forward-thinking innovation in building materials, energy use, and adaptability to exterior environments.
Belgium's zero-emission Princess Elisabeth Antarctica (International Polar Foundation) opened in 2009. The station has no heating system, despite the fact that temperatures outside typically hover between -5 degrees and -50 degrees Celsius, according to the station's website. Instead, the station is kept warm by a combination of nine-layer walls, daylighting, electrical appliances, and human body heat. Powered by solar and wind energy, it also houses batteries that can store energy when less power is available. Energy use in the station is closely controlled with a "micro smart grid," in which each person must request energy consumption that is prioritized by factors such as time of day and type of activity.
Completed in 2013, the U.K.'s Halley VI was designed by Hugh Broughton Architects with AECOM and became the first research station that was relocatable—in other words, it can be moved around if the iceberg on which it is stationed threatens to break off from the ice shelf. (As Halley VI is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf, this is a very real threat.)
India's Bharati Research Station (bof Architekten/IMS) was built with over 100 shipping containers that were then wrapped in an aluminum enclosure.
A fourth project, South Korea's Jang Bogo Antarctic Research Station (Space Group), is slated to open by 2014.
The exhibition also features a design by Denmark's David Garcia Studio (now Map Architects) called Iceberg Living Station—which would be carved directly out of an iceberg and would melt after 7 to 10 years.
While different in approach and focus, these test-kitchen solutions to Antarctic architecture address the same concerns faced in construction the world over: how to build environments where dozens of people work, sleep, dine, and drink comfortably.
Top Antarctica photo courtesy of a Creative Commons license with Flickr user Rita Willaert.