Insight > Lighting T

he sun never rises during the winter months in Antarctica. Day after day, the continent is shrouded in darkness – in some parts for nine continuous months. Then, come summertime, residents are faced with 24-hours of strong, bright and unrelenting sunlight.

Light has the greatest influence on the human body’s circadian rhythms: too much or too little can completely thwart our sleep patterns, metabolism and hormones. This can lead to myriad health problems, including depression, diabetes and heart disease. So, it is imperative that those constructing living quarters on this formidable 14 million km landscape do so with clever lighting design to counter the natural cycle of the sun. Although Antarctica covers about 10% of the Earth’s surface, no settlements were built there until 1902. When British explorers constructed one of the first permanent structures on the continent, they insulated it with felt and clad it in wood – the primary goal of which was to keep inhabitants alive. But, as one of the windiest and driest parts of the planet, where temperatures reach minus 56ºC, the hut was rendered unliveable for the first year due to the cold temperature and draughtiness.

In the decades since, an influx of scientists living and working in Antarctica, spurred by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty declaring the land a research zone for 12 nations, has necessitated architectural innovation. Though it is the only continent on the planet with no indigenous population, it is now home to about 5,000 people throughout the year – investigating everything from climate change and wildlife to the shifting of ice shelves –


whose wellbeing could be in jeopardy without the correct balance of light and warmth. The architects entrusted to create Antarctica’s latest generation of cutting-edge stations are rising to the challenge, combining practicality with appealing, pioneering design – and the rest of the world is paying attention. As the continent’s human population is on the rise, Antarctica is becoming far less isolated from the rest of the world, and the companies behind these new spaces are responsible for firmly placing it on the map. Indeed, the increase in architectural intrigue around Antarctica is such that, in 2014, it became the first whole continent to ever be represented at the Venice Biennale.

Breaking the ice

Rick Petersen, the principal at OZ Architects, the Denver-based company hired by the National Science Foundation in 2012 to reconceive America’s McMurdo station on the southern tip of Ross Island, explains: “The idea is to get this station to be more efficient logistically as well as from an energy standpoint, so more money can go into the science being done there.” The station was first built in 1955 as a US Navy base beside an active volcano, and Petersen says that, over time, “it has grown haphazardly, and it lacks some functionality”. OZ Architects’ new construct is consolidating the existing 100 buildings into six connected structures, featuring large floor-to- ceiling windows, strategically lit communal areas, and shaded lodgings. The benefits of capitalising on natural light during the daytime are countless, Petersen says, so the firm

has positioned windows to overlook the ocean and the mountains, “to remind you why you’re there”. Hugh Broughton, the founder of his eponymous London-based architectural practice, who designed Halley VI, the British Antarctic Survey’s base – whose company is currently working on New Zealand’s Scott Base – agrees. “Antarctica is very beautiful, so being able to see the landscape is good for people’s wellbeing. Everyone tends to think you want to keep the windows as small as possible as they’re the greatest source of heat loss in the building, but windows have a massively important role to play, particularly in the Antarctic, because they help orientate people,” explains Broughton. He says that technological advances have meant that windows can now be much more thermally efficient than they used to be, so architects can afford to keep them generously sized, as opposed to reducing them down to “aeroplane- type proportions”. Broughton’s company created the Halley VI station to sit on hydraulic stilts, so it is able to rise above snow drifts when needed – a design that responds to the station’s turbulent history, having first been constructed in 1956 but shut down little more than a decade later because it was covered in snow. Each rebuilding effort from Halley II until its present iteration proved to be complex and costly. So, in 2005, the British Antarctic Survey teamed up with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to sponsor a design competition to improve the station’s longevity – and indeed, Hugh Broughton Architects’ winning proposal is designed to last at least

20 years. Built atop a drifting ice shelf, it is possible that the station may need to be moved at some point, and this is made possible by skis placed at the base of its stilts.

Finding steady ground Its location was particularly challenging to build on because all the materials were delivered by ship, meaning everything needed to be unloaded onto frozen sea ice, “which is only around one-to-two-metres thick”, says Broughton. “We couldn’t pre-fabricate whole buildings because otherwise they would be too heavy and just disappear through the sea ice. So, everything needed to be designed like a kind of flat-pack Ikea-type system, where parts were dragged across the sea ice and then all assembled on the site.” For the New Zealand base, the company is able to entirely pre- fabricate the buildings because its location is hardier, reducing the amount of people needed on site, as well as environmental waste. “The challenges are different,” he says, “but they always revolve around climate and logistics.” These Antarctic stations all support an enormous variety of spaces, including bedrooms, dining-rooms, relaxation spaces, gyms, offices and laboratories, as well as industrial areas like vehicle workshops and cargo bays, which each require different lighting. Both Petersen and Broughton emphasise the importance of controlling not just the intensity of light, but also its temperature so people are in tune with the natural rhythm of their bodies. “You want the temperature of the lighting to gently change to simulate the change in intensity that you’d expect in a


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