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The coolest architecture on Earth is in Antarctica

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EXCERPT: Who said a polar research base had to be ugly? Gradually, designers are rethinking how to build for the world’s harshest environment. Representatives from Brazil’s scientific community and government will head to Antarctica this month to inaugurate its new Comandante Ferraz Research Station, which replaces a facility lost to fire in 2012. The two low-slung buildings, designed by Estudio 41, a Brazilian architecture firm, house laboratories, operational support and living quarters — and could be mistaken for an art museum or a boutique hotel.

“Brazil is a tropical country, so we were not used to these conditions,” said Emerson Vidigal, a principal at the firm. “These conditions” include temperatures that drop below minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit and winds that reach 100 miles per hour.

Throughout the 20th century, architecture in Antarctica was a pragmatic and largely makeshift affair, focused on keeping the elements out and the occupants alive. [...] Construction in Antarctica, long the purview of engineers, is now attracting designer architects looking to bring aesthetics — as well as operational efficiency, durability and energy improvements — to the coldest neighborhood on Earth.

[...] When British explorers built one of the first permanent structures there, in 1902, they insulated it with felt and clad it in wood. [...] That sense of improvisation continued for decades. ... On 1956, the Royal Society founded Halley Research Station [the first version] ... In addition to being visually striking, Halley VI provides researchers with a more spacious and comfortable living and work environment. It is set on hydraulic stilts, allowing operators to lift it up out of accumulating snow drifts. And if the entire station needs to be moved — it sits on a drifting ice shelf — skis at the base of those stilts make that possible.

[...] Other countries have taken note. In 2018, Spain opened a new research station — and hired Mr. Broughton’s firm to design it. Like Halley VI, it cuts a strong figure, its modular buildings clad in bright red fiber-reinforced plastic panels.

[...] For the U.S., architecture in Antarctica is a matter of some urgency. The largest American station, McMurdo, started out in 1956 as an improvised naval base, grew in an ad hoc manner over decades and needs updating. ... “The more we spend to keep the buildings going, the fewer resources we have to get researchers out in the field,” said Alexandra Isern, head of Antarctic sciences at the N.S.F.

In 2012, the N.S.F. hired OZ Architecture, a firm based in Denver, to develop a preliminary concept design for a new McMurdo. A separate team of architects and builders is at work developing those designs. The result will provide “creature comforts,” Mr. Roth said, including fitness centers, lounges and improved living quarters.... (MORE - details)

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