article-imageHalley VI (via Forgemind ArchiMedia)

Architecture in Antarctica has to withstand extremes that rival life on Mars. In fact, as a planetary analogue, engineering used for the rigid temperatures, harsh winds, and terrain almost void of life in Antarctica may serve as a model for future extraterrestrial habitation. For now, however, researchers are trying to survive as best they can at the southernmost tip of the world, and leave as little impact on its ice as possible.

Currently the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England, is hosting Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica, a traveling exhibition organized by the British Council with the Arts Catalyst on contemporary architecture in Antarctica. Looking at both existing and speculative projects, the exhibition examines how research stations can combine livable space with sustainable design. 

Below are a few of the featured projects, as well as some other creative designs, and even a couple of futuristic stations on the horizon.


article-imagevia Forgemind ArchiMedia

The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI launched into operation last February with its blue and red connection of modules. Each piece of the station is poised on hydraulic stilts and skis, so it can not just stay above snow drifts, but relocate as well. This is especially important for Halley IV as unlike most stations that are on the Antarctica land mass, it is situated on a floating ice shelf. Up to 52 people can stay in the research station, wherever it may be. 

article-imageInside the research station (via Forgemind ArchiMedia)

article-imageAerial view (via Forgemind ArchiMedia)


article-image© International Polar Foundation - René Robert

The Belgian International Foundation’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is securely attached to the Utsteinen Nunatak, an outcropping that gives the steel structure a sturdy clearance over the snow. A whole array of solar power panels and wind turbines cluster around it, helping to make the Princess Elisabeth the first zero-emission station built in Antarctica. A maximum of 16 scientists can lodge in its concentric spaces, which have been operating since February of 2009. 

article-image© International Polar Foundation - René Robert

article-image© International Polar Foundation - René Robert


article-imagevia Bof Architekten

For their third research station in Antarctica, India turned to Bof Architekten which designed this angular structure from some 134 prefabricated shipping containers. It’s totally self-sufficient and, although not as nimble as Halley VI, it can be taken apart and relocated. It’s been up and operating since of March of 2012 with a maximum capacity of 72 people. However, it hasn’t all been smooth for the Bharati Research Station. It was ordered shut down last year due to fighting between the station leader and subordinates, as well as a serious shortage of fuel. 


article-imagephotograph by Ross Hofmeyr

Completed in 1997, the South African National Antarctica Expedition’s SANAE IV is relatively weathered compared to the other stations on this list, but it’s still operating thanks in large part to its strategic choice of geography. 100 miles from the shore, it’s up on a flat-topped mountain that protects it from snow accumulations. Its roof is orange for visibility, but its blue undercarriage was later painted red as it was seen as too close to the old South African flag. 

article-imagephotograph by Chantal Steyn

article-imagephotograph by Chantal Steyn


article-imagevia Estúdio41

This striking design for Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station isn’t built yet, but when it is it will be able to withstand −70°F temperatures out on the Keller Peninsula. Designed by Estúdio41, it replaces a previous station wrecked by a fire in 2012. Similar to Halley VI, it will have adjustable stilt legs, and hopefully a longer life than its unfortunate predecessor. 


article-imagevia Space Group

Also currently underway is Jang Bogo Station. Planned to open this February, the station headed by South Korea was designed by Space Group, and will be able to hold some 60 people. As the limits of human endurance may soon be stretched to the stars, perhaps this cutting edge model of sustainability in a hostile place will be a model for future extraterrestrial design. 

Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica is at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester, England, through March 2, 2014.