For years, Antarctic research stations have been plagued by environmental conditions that go far beyond the extreme cold. For one, there’s the problem of moving ice, which recedes towards the ocean at a rate of about 0.4 kilometers a year. On top of that, literally, there is the ice and snow accumulation, which threatens to bury any building placed on the continent. Because of this, research stations have a top life expectancy of about ten years in Antarctica. But that may be about to change…
Meet the Halley VI Antarctic research station, a mobile structure which began operations this past February. The brainchild of Hugh Broughton Architects, and established by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the station features extendable legs on giant skis. Comprised of eight interconnected modules, the station rests atop a series of retractable hydraulic legs which enable the structure to clear the rising ground each year. And when the station needs to be moved, a bulldozer can simply tow it to a new location.
The base can also accommodate 50 research scientists in its segmented hull. Living accommodations and laboratories, clad in blue glass-reinforced plastic, are positioned on either side of a larger unit clad in red, which serves as a social nexus. This space is especially crucial to the well-being of the station, since its crew will live in it year-round and have to endure the permanent darkness, -60 degree temperatures, and 125-kilomer (100 mph) winds the continent is known for.
Home comforts include a hydroponic salad garden and a climbing wall within a double-height central space lined with Lebanese cedar, selected for its scent. The architect also worked with a color psychologist to identify “refreshing and stimulating” shades, and developed a bedside lamp with a daylight bulb to simulate sunrise.
Said architect Hugh Broughton of the creation of Halley VI:
It has been a fascinating project because it combines microscopic examples of many different building types – an operating theater, air traffic control, a power plant – rolled into 20,000 square feet.
And since this project has led to similar appeals being made by other national research groups – which include scientists from Spain, India and Korea – this could be merely the first of many such stations standing near the South Pole. Almost makes the idea of being there for a year conducting research sound fun, doesn’t it?