Space Architecture 04.08.11


Six people currently live on the International Space Station (ISS). "They have to sleep, go to the toilet, eat and be active in some way," said Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger, a space architect from Vienna, addressing the annual International Conference on Environmental Systems in Barcelona in July. A special session hosted by the Space Architecture Technical Committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics brings together architects and systems engineers tackling the enormous challenge of building habitats in space. The meeting has taken place for 40 years, but this is the first time it has come to Europe.

The scope is huge, reflecting the range of factors that have to be considered in space habitation design: from the structural 
aspects of inflatables and deployables to field studies in human activity, such as stowage and improvised furniture.

Scattered in geographical and disciplinary diaspora, space architects are a sociable bunch, and discussions carried on into late-night dinners. The terrestrial relevance of this work often came up: "The building industry must evolve from sustainable buildings to survivable buildings to withstand climatic instability and environmental uncertainty while maintaining ecological integrity," says David Nixon, co-founder of Future Systems and architect on the ISS project. "Space can help to teach the building industry how to do that."

Now that NASA's Constellation programme has folded, private sector initiatives have become more important. The space industry is presently at a fork in the road, but both paths will need to put more emphasis on space architecture. One branch is continuing the classic path of exploration with bespoke structures for a professional user group of scientists. The other is interested in commercial sub-orbital spaceflight with its additional needs for embedded branding and experience design – in short, tourism. This will be the focus of the space architecture track at the 61st International Astronautical Congress this autumn.

Stepping out from the air-conditioned, quasi-closed system of the conference venue into the midday sun scorching Mies' Barcelona pavilion, I'm wondering how he would have designed a space station. He might have delighted in the angularity of payload racks and the awesome external views to integrate, but eventually could have been put off by having to mount foot restraints onto sleek surfaces.

Space architecture is, for many different reasons, not sleek. It is lived-in, gritty, cluttered and extremely idiosyncratic. The reality of ISS reflects an enormous organisational system that challenged physics and politics to build beyond the atmosphere. It has become routine. Perhaps precisely because of this, the discourse on human spaceflight in Europe is as important today than it has ever been.



Space Architecture



Regina Peldszus

quotes story

Space architecture is, for many different reasons, not sleek. It is lived-in, gritty, cluttered and extremely idiosyncratic

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