by Suzanne Miao on Apr 22, 2013 in Architecture
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Ask any architect and you can be sure to be told that theirs is not an easy job – throw in Antarctic conditions or lunar locations and the challenges become almost unfathomable

In February this year, Britain’s latest Antarctic research station became fully operational, one hundred years after Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expeditions. The new state-of-the-art facility demonstrates the UK’s ambition to remain at the forefront of scientific endeavour – as well as the skill and determination of Hugh Broughton Architects and multidisciplinary engineers Aecom.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI Research Station is the sixth to be built on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf. “When I heard the announcement of the [Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) International] competition in June 2004 on the radio, I could not resist the opportunity and challenge of working in the most extreme environment on Earth,” says Hugh Broughton, director of Hugh Broughton Architects. “I have always been drawn to powerful landscapes and the pristine, wind-scoured Brunt Ice Shelf presented the most extraordinary blank canvas for contemporary architecture that I could imagine.”

Construction was carried out during four Antarctic summers – each build season lasting just nine weeks. The new research station is built with an innovative concept featuring hydraulically elevated ski-based modules, ensuring the station can be fully relocatable – a world first. Combining seven interlinking blue modules used for bedrooms, laboratories, offices and energy plants, with a central two-storey red module featuring a double-height light filled social space. 

“The scientific significance of the project has been a massive driver through the project – everyone involved has wanted to create the best possible conditions for the people who will live at Halley, knowing that every year they will be facing freezing weather, three months of total darkness and nine months of total isolation from the rest of the world,” says Broughton.

Part of a consortium set up by the European Space Agency (ESA), Foster + Partners is exploring the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations, addressing the challenges of transporting materials to the moon, and investigating the use of lunar soil, known as regolith, as building matter. “As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials – our lunar habitation follows a similar logic,” says Xavier De Kestelier, partner, Foster + Partners specialist modelling group.

The practice has designed a lunar base to house four people, which is unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. An inflatable dome extends to provide a support structure for construction, over which layers of regolith are built up by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell which is made up of a hollow, closed-cellular structure similar to foam. The geometry of the structure was designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with consortium partners – it is ground-breaking in demonstrating the potential of 3D printing to create structures that are close to natural biological systems.