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Icy Design Opens in Antarctica

Friday, February 22, 2013

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The Halley VI Antarctic Research Station is one icy project that’s set to become an icon for British science, architecture and engineering.

Not to mention what the futuristic structure might do for science fiction.

About 900 miles from the South Pole, on a thick facet of floating ice, stands the newly opened research facility, which is comprised of eight modules that house dozens of scientists who call the frigid frontier home.

British Antarctic Survey
Anthony Dubber / British Antarctic Survey

The modules house research laboratories, bedrooms and socializing spaces in one of the least hospitable environments known to man. The facility, called Halley VI, replaces a 20-year-old complex.

British firm Hugh Broughton Architects and multidisciplinary engineers AECOM won an international competition to design a new replacement for the 20-year-old Halley V facility.

Pods of Challenge

“Their challenge,” according to a release by the British Antarctic Survey, “was to create excellent laboratory and living accommodation that was capable of withstanding extreme winter weather, of being raised sufficiently to stay above meters of annual snowfall, and of being relocated inland periodically to avoid being stranded on an iceberg as the floating ice shelf moves towards the sea.”

The design for the Brunt Ice Shelf looks to have completed its mission.

To avoid the fate of the other abandoned and snow-buried stations before it, the Halley VI modules were designed to prevent snow accumulation on their exteriors. They are further supported on giant steel skis and hydraulically driven legs, according to project details.

The legs allow for the station to “climb” up out of the snow every year without being buried, the architecture firm explained. The skis will allow for the station to be moved.

Construction in the Elements

To be sure, the elements played a key role in construction. Galliford Try plc, a London-based construction company, won the £25.8 million ($393.8 million USD) contract and worked with technical teams from the British Antarctic Survey to complete the structure.

video of construction
Galliford Try plc

Construction involved disorienting white surroundings and freezing temperatures.

Construction was completed over four Antarctic summers—each build season lasting just nine weeks. A video of the project under construction is available here.

“Halley VI was constructed in one of the least hospitable environments known to man,” according to the construction company. The team worked around the clock in freezing conditions and disorienting white surroundings to complete the extreme project.

Also, the building materials and components had to be delivered across fragile sea ice, which can fracture at any time, according to the architects.

Color Psychology

Color also played a role in the modules' interior design, to help preserve the “sanity and spirits” of the scientists who live and work there, according to a report in The Guardian.

Halley VI (c) Hugh Broughton Architects
Hugh Broughton Architects

A color psychologist consulted on the project. In winter, lighting simulates dawn.

“A color psychologist, Angela Wright, came up with a ‘spring palette’ of bright but not violent colors. In winter, artificial daylight bulbs slowly turn on in the morning, to simulate dawn. Bubble-like windows allow people to immerse themselves in the astonishing aurora australis,” according to the report.

Funded by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, the station is a key laboratory for studying the Earth’s magnetic field and the near-space atmosphere. Data from the Halley team led to the 1985 discovery of the ozone hole.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Climate Control; Color; Design; Steel

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