Halley VI Research Station by Hugh Broughton 09.05.13

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Hugh Broughton's research station for British scientists in Antarctica stretches across the snowy, windswept landscape like a huge, abandoned children's toy. In 2005, Broughton's London practice had only four employees and worked primarily on house extensions when, as a wildcard, it won this extraordinary commission. The result – a retro-futurist train of raised 20m x 10m modules on giant skis that can be dragged across the ice by bulldozers – resembles Archigram's 1964 proposal for a robotic Walking City. Indeed, on an early sketch depicting his caravan of brightly coloured modules, Broughton made a note that referenced this radical, stilted scheme: "Is this a walking city?"

Another pop culture influence, he acknowledges, was Gerry Anderson's TV series Thunderbirds, specifically the hydraulic legs and aerodynamic shape of Thunderbirds 2, International Rescue's heavy-duty transporter craft. "I love the idea that 50 years down the line, in Antarctica, some of that conceptual thought from the 60s comes true," Broughton says. "It's highly functional, but it does have a very particular aesthetic."

Halley VI, one of about 40 research stations in the area, is 900 or so miles from the South Pole, located on an ice sheet that is perpetually moving out and calving into the Weddell Sea. The area is important for science because it is a perfect auroral zone, which allows study of the interaction of solar particles with the earth's atmosphere and magnetic field: it was here, for example, that the hole in the ozone layer was discovered in 1995. Temperatures reach as low as -57˚C and the plateau gets devastated by 100mph "katabatic" winds that have buried previous buildings in huge drifts of snow that never melt.

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The architect addressed this problem with an ingenious scheme. The building can be jacked up on its hydraulic legs each year and pulled back along the ice shelf when the fracture lines approach it. Each glass-fibre module was prefabricated in Cape Town, transported by ship and dragged across the precarious sea ice to the ice shelf in small parts. The red module – a double-height dining, kitchen and meeting area – divides the laboratories and workshops from the cabins and sleeping quarters.

In summer it is home to 52 scientists, but a skeleton crew of 16 stay for the other nine months of the year, with only a colony of emperor penguins for company. The polar night shrouds the continent in darkness for 105 days a year, which can cause seasonal affective disorder. The architect sought to address this by inventing a daylight simulation light that wakes the crew with an artificial dawn, and employing a colour psychologist to come up with the vibrant, pop art colour scheme.The project has made Broughton a sought-after expert in extreme architecture. He has created proposals for Indian, Spanish and South Korean Antarctic stations, and has been commissioned to build a research station in Greenland for the American National Science Foundation

 

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Hugh Broughton Architects

 

Words

Christopher Turner

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Retro-futurist train of raised 20m x 10m modules on giant skis that can be dragged across the ice by bulldozers

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