According to the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed on December 1, 1959, in Washington, and applies to any region below 60° south latitude, Antarctica will be utilized only for peaceful purposes. No military bases will be established and military missions will be prohibited. Since then, the continent has been dedicated to scientific research.
Many facilities have been established in Antarctica but their main focus was to protect people from the harsh environment. Currently, the number of scientists occupied in research projects on the continent is rapidly growing, therefore, new facilities aiming to provide better aesthetics, efficiency and operability must be implemented. Consequently, engineers and architects are focusing on providing better design concepts for Antarctica's infrastructure.
The UK has a long historical background associated with Antarctica's infrastructure. Back in 1902, British researchers constructed one of the first permanent buildings in the continent using fabric for cold insulation. The attempt was not successful as the structure was not properly insulated and people inside felt very cold. Moreover, the large quantity of snow blocked the door of the structure and explorers had to get out of the building using a window.
Extreme weather conditions in Antarctica posed a serious challenge for the building industry. In 1956, the UK's Royal Society established the Halley Research Station but the facility closed 12 years later due to high snow accumulation that covered the structure. New designs were implemented and new stations (Halley II, III, IV and V) were constructed each presenting significant improvements.
However, the stations' life expectancy remained short and when the last one needed new repairs (in 2005), the British Antarctic Survey took a revolutionary decision. In cooperation with the Royal Institute of British Architects, they organized a competition to design Halley VI with a life expectancy of at least 20 years. Hugh Broughton Architects, the firm that won the competition, implemented pioneering concepts to make the structure sustainable. Hydraulics stands that lifted the building in case of severe snow accumulation were used. Moreover, skis at the base of the stands were placed in case the structure needed to be moved. “Before, these projects were all just about keeping the weather out. Engineers would be told, ‘This is the weather, this is the wind speed, these are the restrictions.’ But now these projects are about using architecture as a means of improving both well-being and operational efficiency," Hugh Broughton stated.
Currently, Brazil plans to replace a scientific station that was highly damaged due to fire in 2012. The new facility which will consist of 2 buildings is handled by Estudio 41, a Brazilian architecture company. The design will be innovative and the structures will look like "an art museum or a boutique hotel".
In addition to the specialized design Antarctica's buildings should have to address extreme weather, the construction process is also a challenging task. All the materials need to be transported by ships and the construction procedures may take place only during the summer. For this reason, most stations are accomplished in a few years. Bof architekten, a German architecture company, employed by India’s National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research applied a pioneering concept to improve the construction procedures. Instead of sending back the containers that were used to bring the construction materials, the firm incorporated them into the design improving the efficiency of a construction project.