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N(ice) Lab: Antarctic scientific research stations

Whoever said scientific field work only takes place in modest, worn-out structures clearly has never been to Antarctica and last week, South Korea reminded the polar science community that they don’t have to sacrifice all the comforts of home (or the principles of good design) just because they’re spending your days battling the elements.

The Jang Bogo Research Station marks South Korea’s second permanent base in the Antarctic and is a visually impressive monument to science in the South Pole. But all that design has a practical significance as well. The aerodynamic shape of the Jang Bogo structures and the materials used to build them will allow the station to withstand “temperatures as cold as minus 40 Celsius and strong winds that blow at speeds of up to 65 meters per second” according to the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI).  When fully operational, Jang Bogo will accommodate 60 people in a 16 building-compound residing on a 4.5 sq. km. plot in Terra Nova Bay, Victoria Land.

Jang Bogo Antarctic research station concept rendering
Jang Bogo Antarctic research station concept rendering. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects
Jang Bogo Antarctic research station construction
Jang Bogo Antarctic research station nearing construction completion. Image: Korea Polar Research Institute

But Jang Bogo isn’t the only ice base garnering attention for it’s dapper design. Other countries have allowed their Antarctic structures to serve as scientific-architecture playgrounds as well.

In 2013, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) powered-up it’s Halley VI Research Station.  Designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, Halley VI represents the “world’s first fully relocatable research station on the Antarctic continent.” After years of Britain’s Halley-series stations being destroyed by the elements, the BAS desired a more mobile approach for conducting it’s icy research and thus the intriguing, caterpillar-like Halley VI was born. Halley VI features seven, interlinked blue segments (reminiscent of  Achigram’s Walking City) which contain the station’s living quarters, laboratories, and energy plants.  In the center is a large, double-height red structure which serves as the crew’s social commons during periods of downtime. Should the snow get to high, the station is set atop a series of hydraulic skis ensuring that it can always remain above the level of snowfall and relocate to other areas should it become necessary. The design has been so successful that Spain is jumping on the Hugh Broughton bandwagon and has selected the firm to design it’s new Juan Carlos 1 station.

Halley VI Antarctic research station
Halley VI Antarctic research station aerial view. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects
Forward view of the Halley VI Antarctic research station
Viewing the Halley VI Antarctic research station head-on. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects
Halley VI Antarctic research station for British Antarctic Survey
Halley VI Antarctic research station for BAS. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects
Halley VI Antarctic research station cross-sections
Halley VI Antarctic research station cross-sections. Concept rendering. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects
Juan Carlos 1 Antarctic research station concept rendering
Juan Carlos 1 concept rendering. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects
Juan Carlos 1 Antarctic research station concept rendering
Juan Carlos 1 concept rendering. Image: Hugh Broughton Architects

So who else is playing the stylish science game in deep south? Belgium! Conceived, designed, and operated by the International Polar Foundation, Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctica surmounts a rocky outcrop in the western Sor Rondane Mountains.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station photographed against the sunlight by René Robert
Princess Elisabeth Station against the sunlight. Image: René Robert (International Polar Foundation)
Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station
Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station. Image: International Polar Foundation
Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station
Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station. Image: International Polar Foundation

The location was selected after a November 2004 expedition determined that it would provide an ideal area to establish a base with coastal access, protection from snow accumulation, and ample wind for a wind power station. After several years of preparatory work and construction, the much-awaited station became operational in Februrary of 2009 and was billed as the world’s first “zero emission” research facility.  You can read more about how that is accomplished here.

But these are just a few of the structures making an aesthetic impact on the Antarctic research community.  Other notable stations include India’s Bharati Research Station and Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Research Station (in development).

Bharati Research Antarctic research station
Bharati Research Station. Image: National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR)
Bharati Research Antarctic research station.
Bharati Research Station. Image: National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR)
Comandante Ferraz Antarctic research station
Comandante Ferraz Antarctic research station. Image: Estudio 41
Comandante Ferraz Antarctic research station
Comandante Ferraz Antarctic research station. Image: Estudio 41

 

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