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Futuristic design for new Antarctic base

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August 12, 2005

Futuristic design for new Antarctic base

Futuristic design for new Antarctic base

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August 13, 2005 A futuristic design by Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects has won the competition for the new British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Halley Research Station. The new station will have a series of mechanical legs on skis that enable it to stay above the surface of the ice and be relocated inland to minimize the risk of loss due to calving events. Designed to withstand extreme winds and freezing winter temperatures down to minus 56 degrees Celsius, the new design will provide a safe, stimulating place for scientists to live and work, in a building designed to minimize its impact on Antarctica's pristine environment.

The new, replacement station will provide a home and work place for 16 people during the winter and 52 in the summer, and will need to respond to the most extreme environment on the planet. Located 10,000 miles from the UK, the station will be situated on the 150m thick floating Brunt Ice Shelf, which moves 400m per annum towards the sea. Snow accumulation means that snow levels rise by over a metre every year, and the sun does not rise above the horizon for three months during the Austral winter.

Faber Maunsell Project Director, Peter Ayres said: “I am delighted that we have won this prestigious competition. Our design creates inspirational, iconic architecture and engineering, that we believe truly reflects the significance of the science conducted by BAS at Halley. We’ve paid particular attention to the needs for a sustainable, energy-efficient solution that complies in full with the Antarctic Treaty Environmental Protocol. Minimising environmental impact during construction and lifespan has been a big issue for our design. Each highly insulated module incorporates low energy and sustainable principles to help reduce the station’s environmental impact. When it comes to eventual decommissioning, the station can be easily moved and taken apart. We consider Halley VI to be a visitor to Antarctica, not a resident.”

Architect, Hugh Broughton, said: “Our solution has been developed in direct response to the demands of the science that takes place at Halley, the comfort of the residents, buildability and the operations necessary in the life of an Antarctic research station. From the outset we researched the processes involved at Halley, and used this knowledge to inform our thinking. The iconic architecture grew from the function of the building. Our design maximizes flexibility. Modules can be used for a large number of activities ranging from laboratories to recreation to plant rooms. When connected together the modules form the new station.” Director of BAS, Professor Chris Rapley, CBE said: This was an incredibly tough choice for the Jury Panel to make. We were presented with three outstanding schemes - each one of them creating an exceptional solution for living and working in this extreme environment. Of course, only one scheme can go through to construction. In my view each team is a winner and I really hope that the runners-up realise how much we value their ideas. This competition was launched to bring innovation and creativity to the challenge of building a scientific research station on a floating ice shelf. The process, which involved a working partnership between each design team and the BAS technical teams, was stimulating and exciting for everyone involved. I extend my warm congratulations to Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects on their success at winning this competition. The new modular station, elevated on ski-based jackable legs to avoid burial by snow, can be towed across the ice. The modules are simple to construct and can be re-arranged or relocated inland periodically as the ice shelf flows towards the sea. A central module packed with stimulating areas for recreation and relaxation is flanked by a series of modules designed to suit the changing needs of the science programmes. It features renewable energy sources and new environmental strategies for fuel, waste and material handling. In a very close-run contest, three finalists presented their ideas to a Jury Panel, technical advisory panel and BAS scientists. An exhibition of all three schemes will be on display at RIBA from 19 July-6 August. Work on the design and build contract will now begin. The first phase of construction at Halley will commence in January 2007 with handover to British Antarctic Survey in December 2008.

About the modules:

    The new station will be based on two platforms, each with six interconnected modules. The north platform is the principle year round accommodation building. The southern platform houses extra accommodation for summer visitors and most importantly the science modules.

    The modules will withstand prevailing winds of up to 90 miles per hour and an average external temperature of –30ºC degrees (extreme minimum –56ºC).

    The northern end sleeping module houses an observation lounge with panoramic views of the snowscape in the summer and the aurora in the dark winter months.

    Science modules are placed at the southern end of the station near to the clean air sector. The modular solution will allow extra modules to be added to suit changing scientific programs.

    A standard module can hold eight compact, homely bedrooms. These will be comfortable spaces with a built in sofa and a bed long enough to take the tallest of scientists, storage for personal possessions and pin boards and shelving for posters and books.

    Modules are very versatile. The structural support is provided by a steel frame based on simplicity, standardisation and rapid construction. No internal structure means that layouts can thus be moved around to suit changing science programs or other factors.

    Link areas are enriched through the use of strong, cheerful colors carefully selected with the help of a colour psychologist.

    The special central module is the principle social space and major destination point at the new station, containing a dining room, and recreational spaces for arts and crafts, pool, table tennis, pool and even a double height climbing wall. A gym, sauna, hydrotherapy bath and music room are included in adjacent modules.

    An upper deck houses a TV lounge, library and office area. A feature helical stair to this area climbs through an atrium glazed with high performance translucent panels. In the summer, the space will be filled with diffuse light. In winter, blinds will act as a screen for color change lights that will emulate the changing light in the day of a more temperate climate.

    A hydroponics installation at the centre of the atrium will nourish the winter crew providing up to 3 fresh salads a week, as well as providing the refreshing sight of greenery at the heart of the station.

    Standard environmental design solutions throughout the station will enhance resilience. The energy modules on each platform are interconnected and an integrated energy balance will reduce the environmental impact of the facility.

    Acoustic and fire engineering designs all help to improve the comfort and safety of occupants.

    Faber Maunsell’s expertise in laboratory design was a key factor in its success, with the recognition of science as being of over-riding importance throughout the design. Multiple, commonly sized plant will help dramatically reduce the amount of spares needed to keep the station running.

    Faber Maunsell's design includes high efficiency combined heat and power generators fuelled with AVTUR diesel suitable for operation in extreme low temperatures.

    The new station will introduce renewable energy to Halley for the first time. Evacuated tube solar/thermal collectors have been incorporated on the two energy modules to augment the hot water heating during the summer months taking advantage of 24hr daylight.

    The services infrastructure allows for the introduction of photo voltaics and wind turbine energy generation in the future.

    On the elevated platforms there will be waste collection bins and compactors. There will also be a sewage treatment plant providing dry sludge, which, along with the food waste, will be incinerated on site. This means that when the modules are moved, there will be minimal waste left behind at the Halley VI site.

Construction and Operation of Halley VI

    The structural lightweight steel sub frame of each module will be shipped to site and offloaded onto the sea ice as one complete unit, with legs and skis attached. The 9.5 tonnes structures, within the proven capacity of sea ice, will be towed onto the ice shelf and skied to the site of Halley VI.

    Once the frames are in place, prefabricated floor and cladding panels will then be quickly slotted into place. The cladding is formed from a lightweight plywood sandwich enclosing closed cell foam insulation, covered with an aluminum cladding.

    The complete modules will weigh around 60 tonnes. They will be light enough to be easily towed to a new site during their projected 20 year life time by two D5 bulldozers. The larger central module will weigh 120 tonnes, and will need four D5 bulldozers to tow it.

    A test module will be built early in 2006.

    The design, with its repetitive modules, uses fewer construction components, reducing the time needed to build Halley VI. An assembly line approach will be used to quickly build the modular units on the ice.

    Components are standardised through the whole station, maximising interchangeability of parts and reducing the number of spares, which need to be retained on site.

    The modules’ mechanical legs will significantly ease the task of raising the station. Our design will enable three workers to carry out the task in on one week. At present, it takes six specialist steel workers an entire season to do the job.

    Faber Maunsell’s lead Structural Engineer, Michael Wright, visited Antarctica earlier this year. The visit helped the team prove that its relocation ideas would work and provided essential first hand experience of the environment and conditions.

    Assistance in the design of the mechanical legs was given by Bennett Associates of Rotherham, designers of the Falkirk Wheel, specialists in movable structures.

    Hugh Broughton Architects are one of the emerging talents of British architecture with a strong reputation for pragmatic, coherent thinking and well considered contemporary design. The practice has won several national and international awards including two RIBA Awards for Architecture.

The team has been supported by DMJM H&N, Faber Maunsell’s sister company in the AECOM Group. DMJM H&N provide specialist cold climate and remote location expertise and is responsible for the construction of more facilities in Antarctica than any other company in the world

The two other competing teams were:

Buro Happold Ltd/Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands/Garrad Hassan & Partners Ltd/SLR Consulting Ltd/Human Engineering.

This team has come up with three robust yet delicate fabric-covered craft that apparently hover on legs above the ice. Glowing translucent skin encloses generously-proportioned interiors defined by specially-fabricated walls of integral furniture; these can be reconfigured to create a flexible, stimulating environment for scientific research and a welcoming, low-maintenance home that enhances the science and support team wellbeing.

Hopkins Architects/Expedition Engineering/Atelier Ten/Davis & Langdon

This team designed two aerodynamic, elevated walking buildings that minimise effort of raising, snow-management and relocation. External walls, surrounded with a puffer jacket of structural fabric pillows, streamline the building and provide additional insulation. The team believe the quality of architecture is crucial to the wellbeing, morale and productivity of science and support staff living and working at Halley.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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