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ZA architects designs buildings for Mars


September 11, 2013

Basaltic roving would be used as a building material

Basaltic roving would be used as a building material

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Setting up house is always a pain and when that house is on Mars, it’s a logistical nightmare. To make things a bit easier, Dmitry Zhuikov, Arina Ageeva, and Krassimir Krastev of ZA Architects in Germany have come up with a concept architecture for future Mars colonies, built underground by robots before the colonists arrive.

The idea behind the concept is to get beyond the life in a tin can approach that most Mars colony plans revolve around, and come up with something that can be built by robots using local materials. In particular, basalt.

Basalt has been detected on Mars by NASA rovers and is the most common material in the Martian bedrock. It has good insulating properties, and an underground structure made of it would provide excellent protection against radiation. It would also solve the problem of hauling building materials from Earth or trying to create some sort of Martian cement from the soil in practical quantities.

Robot excavators and builders would be sent from Earth and landed on Mars. These robots would hunt out basaltic columns like those that make up the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. Similar columns were recently discovered on Mars in crater walls near Marte Vallis by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Once they found an area of such buried columns, the robots would test them for strength and then remove the weakest ones as an entry point. They’d dig down like ants and open up a subterranean space, leaving some columns behind as support. The waste material would be packed in berms around skylights and entryways to protect them from the wind and the highly corrosive Martian dust.

When the colonists arrived, they’d find the caverns almost ready for use. They’d divide the caverns into industrial, agricultural, public and residential areas, then install life support systems, power plants, water cracking plants, doors, windows, as well as a plant for making basalt roving. The latter is a fiber produced by taking basalt, crushing it, melting it at a temperature of 1,500ºC (2,700ºF) , and then spinning it like glass fiber. The result is an asbestos-like material with properties comparable to carbon fiber.

The designers see the roving as being used by the colonists for weaving spider-like webs as an architectural material. Given the enormous amount of energy needed to make the roving, how practical this idea is remains to be seen. Also, the renderings of the concept habitats do give the impression that the webs are less structural and more to prevent falling rocks from hitting the residents.

Practicality is also a question for Martian agriculture. According to the designers, Martian soil is suitable for growing crops, though the example they keep citing is asparagus, which is not exactly famous as a staple. Finding water and growing crops would make the colony less expensive to maintain, but it is one of those “first catch your rabbit” problems that may be harder to achieve in the Martian desert than at a drawing board back on Earth.

Source: ZA Architects via dezeen

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

talk, talk.. dreams, dreams.. let's do it already.... So if we were to play this dream game, do the 1st settlers have to live in their pressure suits?? I envisage large pressurised multi roomed habs eventually, but this method won't support any kind of gas pressure, it will need some sort of gas proof lining.

Simon Sammut

This is one of many solutions to extraterrestrial habitation.


Really? We can't even land humans on the Moon, but we want to send robots to Mars to prepare caves for astronauts to live in???? What fantasy is this. There is no money (yet) to be made to go to Mars, and no space race as during the cold war. And that's why we're not even going to the Moon anymore.

Going to the Moon or Mars are 2 vastly differnent things. Let's first build robots that can execute this task here on earth....yes, I don't think so. We don't even have such robots yet. Where will their power come from?

This is all fantasy on the grandest scale. Maybe in 25 to 50 years we'd have the technology to try and think of this.


Good point. Habakak has hit on the first problem. In order to do something in space, we should first try it out here on earth. A demonstration of robotic or AI digging and building and sealing the inside for air pressurization here on earth is the first step.

Paul Turner

I think people underestimate the technology we do in fact possess. While we may not have the money to carry out such a venture, we have autonomous excavation and construction capabilities now. Combining technologies that already exist to produce self operating construction machinery isn't as great a step as one may think.

Some people were born to dream. Others were born to do. Without the dreamers, there isn't anything to do!

It's easy to beat down others' ideas. It takes visionaries and those who strive for greatness to achieve. Something most people will never experience.

Tom Howell

@ habakak - Apparently you have not heard of Mars One ( http://www.mars-one.com/en/ )... ? MW

Martin Winlow

Go dreamers go!! Leonardo da Vinci dreamed of flying, and it took man a few hundred years to get there. The Wright brothers has the same dream, with the then advances in technology it took them a few years to get there.

Man will get to Mars eventually, dreamers are showing us the way.


This is just silly. Forget about the difficulty of actually excavating/building this thing. Think about how RARE that type is rock structure is on Earth. Now imagine sending robotic scout craft to Mars to try to FIND it, if it even exists on Mars. What are you going to have the robots do, drill holes all over Mars?

Roger Garrett
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