Architecture of Antarctica: 12 Strange Sub-Zero Structures

At the ends of the earth, where man-made architecture of any kind is exceedingly rare, it can be jarring to see these often-massive polar research stations, looking like UFOs on stilts above the snow and ice. Surreal and somewhat sci-fi, these outposts of civilization in both Antarctica and the Arctic are designed to face some of the harshest environmental conditions on earth.

Halley VI Research Station

(image via: british antarctic society)

It certainly makes for an eerie sight: an alien-like pod on legs, perched on a floating ice shelf 900 miles from the South Pole. But this bright blue structure is just the latest incarnation of Britain’s Halley Research Station, which has been in continuous operation for 54 years. The new design, by Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects, is currently being constructed in South Africa and shipped to its final location piece by piece. The legs allow it to stay above the level of snowfall, and are equipped with skis to allow mobility as needed.

Svalbard Arctic Research Stations

(images via: christian houge)

“These aren’t film frames from The Empire Strikes Back, even while they look exactly like Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base, ion cannon included,” says Gizmodo. That ‘cannon’ is actually just a weatherproof dome that protects a radar antenna at an Arctic research station in Svalbard, the northernmost area of Norway.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctic Station

(images via: architecture news plus)

It’s the world’s first zero-emission polar station, withstanding unbelievably challenging environmental conditions and looking fantastically modern in the meanwhile. It relies entirely on wind and solar power and is built in concentric layers of living, sleeping, kitchen and laundry space around a central core that holds essential components like water treatment systems and control panels.

Concordia Station

(image via: cnrs phototheque)

Like twin silos, the two round buildings that make up the Concordia Station are the only man-made structures to be seen for miles and miles. Concordia is the most isolated permanent research stations in Antarctica and is perched on top of 3,200 meters of ice in an area known as ‘Dome C’, one of the coldest places on earth.

Neumayer III Station

(image via: awi.de)

Germany’s Neumayer III Station in Antarctica, completed in 2009, is also on hydraulic stilts that allow it to adjust to rising snow levels. Placing such a heavy building – 2,300 pounds of steel – atop little stilts like this was an entirely experimental process for civil engineer Dietrich Enss, who says he searched to no avail for a mathematical formula that would allow him to determine how snow behaves under a load of 30 tons per square meter. Enss ultimately had to rely on his three decades of real-world experience building on icy foundations to create a design that would work.

SANAE IV

(images via: wikimedia commons)

Like a villain’s hidden lair, the SANAE IV research base is an improbable human outpost at the edge of the world. Part of the South African National Antarctic Expedition, SANAE IV is located on a flat-topped mountain and surrounded by a glacial ice sheet. It was one of the first Antarctic structures to use the revolutionary stilt technique to avoid snow loads, copied later by designs like the Halley IV and Neumayer III.

Amundson-Scott South Pole Station

(image via: wikimedia commons)

An icon of the South Pole for three decades, the Amundson-Scott geodesic dome was decommissioned in 2009 and replaced with a somewhat more mundane elevated facility that nevertheless cuts a striking profile (bottom photo, left) beside a power plant an old mechanic’s garage.

St. Ivan Rilkski Chapel

(image via: wikipedia)

Yes, Antarctica has its own churches (several of them, in fact) – and the St. Ivan Rilkski Chapel might just be one of the most unusual places of worship in the world. The Bulgarian church on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands was completed in 2003, and features a mostly-metal construction for strength and durability with a transparent roof that allows lots of natural daylight in. Bulgaria is the only Balkan country with a polar base.

Chilean Tent City

(images via: gizmodo)

They’re not flashy or fancy, but these curving heavy-duty tents stand up to a lot of abuse and they’re all interconnected to form a sort of mobile city for Chilean Air Force members on expeditions to Antarctica. Dining areas, meeting rooms, research labs and sleeping areas are all located off a central hallway, comfortably housing 100 people.

Arctic Mobile Units Concept

(images via: design boom)

Mod and colorful, the ‘Arctic Mobile Unit’ by 2-B-2 Architecture could be a pleasant site – and sight – for researchers spending extended periods in the monochromatic landscapes of the North Pole. The inside boasts bunk platforms, a table for two, a bathroom with toilet and shower and a little kitchenette for home-away-from-home comfort and the whole unit is powered by the sun. The compact unit features slide-outs that can be pushed back in for easy transport.

Mobile Arctic Research Station Concept

(image via: coroflot)

“Within the next few years, it is expected that the majority of the fleet of MD-80 jets will be retired,” says concept artist Carl Burdick, who designed this colorful mobile arctic research station made from the remains of one such jet. “Being on of the most popular regional jets in the world, with over 3,000 produced, this will create an enormous waste stream containing over 12 million kg of waste. This also creates an amazing opportunity to put the features and design capabilities of these structures to good use.”

Arctic Drifter Concept

(images via: les betes)

Even more futuristic – and probably less likely to be built anytime soon – is this inflatable mobile arctic research station designed by Studio Les Betes. The spherical pod is at the  mercy of nature, traveling wherever the wind blows on huge air bags which can be deflated to slow or stop the station.

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