Page B3.2 . 06 April 2005                     
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    Antarctic Architecture


    On the South Atlantic coast is the United Kingdom's Halley V station. A design competition launched by the British Antarctic Survey and the Royal Institute of British Architects will select a team to design a replacement facility, Halley VI, to accommodate 52 people in the summer and 16 in the winter. Three architect/ engineer design teams have been short-listed: Buro Happold/ Lifschutz Davidson, FaberMaunsell/ Hugh Broughton Architects, and Hopkins Architects/ Expedition Engineers.

    Extreme Environment

    Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent on Earth, and one of the driest. The extreme climate includes winter temperatures ranging from -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Centigrade) in coastal areas to -76 degrees F. (-60 degrees C.) in the interior. Wind speeds average 14 miles per hour (22 kilometer per hour) in the interior and go up to 46 miles per hour (74 kilometers per hour) on the coast. Blowing snow creates whiteouts, forms mammoth dunes, and accumulates around built structures, causing substantial logistical and structural problems.

    Confinement in this desolate landscape wreaks havoc on people's mental well-being. Long-duration exposure to extreme cold results in a decline in their motor performance, visual reaction time, and cognitive capabilities. Prolonged darkness, from March to September, disrupts the body's internal clock and affects biological processes and human performance.

    To make matters worse, these scientists are cut off from the rest of the world during much of the winter. Frozen sea channels prevent cargo ships from reaching the coast, while ski-equipped aircraft cannot operate below -58 degrees F. (-50 degrees C.).

    Design Responses to External Elements

    To protect human inhabitants from this harsh environment, buildings in Antarctica need a two-tiered defense. First, passive thermal protection takes the form of a highly insulated and vapor-tight building enclosure. At the U.S. station, the building skin has an insulation value of R-50 to R-70. The windows are triple-glazed, and the doors are freezer-grade, with airlocks.

    Second, an active thermal protection system takes the form of a heating system that can reliably keep up with the high heating demands. It also needs to meet sustainability and energy efficiency requirements of the Antarctic Treaty protocol. At the U.S. station, a forced-water/ glycol heat transfer system recovers waste heat from the power generation plant to heat occupied areas. Recovered heat also helps to warm outside air before it enters the ventilation system.

    System redundancy is essential. Most current Antarctic designs divide the stations into modules and separate the summer and winter berthing areas by a bridge. If one section fails, the remaining sections can operate independently and serve as a safe haven. The modular approach also enables architects to consider a variety of layouts and even permits some on-site rearrangement. To respond to site conditions, the modules can be equipped with skis so their position can be shifted even after they are built and occupied.

    To overcome snow accumulation, most current designs elevate structures via hydraulically jackable legs. Station bodies are also designed aerodynamically, with chamfered or curved profiles on the windward face, to allow the blowing snow to accelerate past the stations. Over time, as snow inevitably accumulates, the structures can be raised to remain above the surface.

    Using wind tunnel testing and wind/ snow computational modeling, Ferraro Choi determined that the ideal building configuration is a linear arrangement of C-shaped buildings laid perpendicular to the prevailing wind. U.K. design teams will conduct their own modeling some time in 2005.

    Design Responses to Internal Confinement

    Designing humane living spaces in this restrictive environment can be a costly challenge. Studies on confinement, which began with the Apollo space missions, found that, in general, the longer the confinement, the larger the living volume needed and the greater the need for privacy.

    How the limited space is allocated to various functional areas is important in minimizing the negative effects of confinement. It is recommended, for example, that communal areas should be designed as visually and physically distinct from private quarters, as should workspaces from recreational areas.

    Architect Hugh Broughton, who is working on the U.K. design competition, restricts the size of personal quarters, but invests more space in communal areas. "If you make the bedrooms too comfortable, they will bury themselves away," Broughton explains. "If they don't come together, the community falls apart. We put comfort in the public areas so people are naturally drawn to those spaces."

    His team's scheme includes a central module where people can relax and socialize. The double-height space at its center is fronted by a wall clad with the Kalwall system with Nanogel, a highly thermally efficient material that transmits 15 percent of daylight. A hydroponics chamber provides fresh vegetables and visual interest, as well as the opportunity for recreational gardening.

    To replace the day/ night cycle normally created by changing daylight patterns, modern Antarctic stations feature bright, energy-efficient, full-spectrum fluorescent lighting, coupled with light interior finishes.

    Using LED (light emitting diode) lighting systems, it is possible to change the color of light to simulate daily and seasonal cycles. The U.K. designs are also incorporating interior colors that promote socialization and help prevent visual monotony.

    It's possible to have too much artificial lighting. Bill Henriksen, winter site manager of the U.S. station, describes how a bright interior can be uncomfortable. "Some people simply prefer the quietness of the dark," he says. To Henriksen, the Antarctic sky, with its changing displays of Aurora Australis, can be an effective, and natural, relief from the darkness.

    These research stations, current and future, demonstrate the necessity for architect/ engineer collaboration. Functionality and life safety are always foremost but, says Broughton, "unless key components of human existence are met, humans cannot function efficiently."

    In a solution that may not have emerged from a strictly engineering approach, his team's design for a "cockpit lounge" simultaneously satisfies the need for an aerodynamic building profile and the desire to observe the aurora from indoors.

    Although it's important that South Pole residents not be given a false sense of safety, the need to be on constant alert for perils must be balanced with the human desire for comfortable habitation. With more people staying longer in Antarctica, architects and engineers are striving for this balance, designing places of living that are secure, comfortable, and productive, in a land of unsurpassed desolation.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Maijinn Chen is a licensed architect, with a Master of Architecture from the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture, University of Houston. She is now a practicing space architect in Las Vegas, Nevada.



    ArchWeek Image

    Night sky over the U.S. South Pole Station, with the Aurora Australis.
    Photo: NSF/USAP photo by J. Dana Hrubes

    ArchWeek Image

    U.S. research station under construction in Antarctica, 2004.
    Photo: Courtesy Jerry Marty, NSF

    ArchWeek Image

    Construction of the summer berthing wing at the U.S. station. The platform structure can be hydraulically jacked to hoist the station up a full floor's height and reconnect to columns with added extensions.
    Photo: Courtesy Jerry Marty, NSF

    ArchWeek Image

    The new dining hall at the U.S. station, with an open layout and side windows for view and light. The room doubles as a lecture hall and gathering area.
    Photo: Courtesy Jerry Marty, NSF

    ArchWeek Image

    Private room at the U.S. station.
    Photo: Courtesy Jerry Marty, NSF

    ArchWeek Image

    The FaberMaunsell/Broughton proposal shows the flexibility of the modular approach to building configuration and orientation.
    Image: Hugh Broughton Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    The standard module from the FaberMaunsell/Broughton scheme, outfitted for private berths. The skis make the modules relocatable even when fully loaded.
    Image: Hugh Broughton Architects


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