The Arctic is an unforgiving place, especially for humans who choose to venture there and explore for scientific reasons or for filming, staying for long periods of time. Habitable structures for such a task are usually simple and above-ground. A team of four graduate students from London's Architectural Association however are proposing an interesting underground alternative of "burrowing architecture" facilitated by robots -- and inspired by the network of underground dens that polar bears dig for shelter.
Seen over at Designboom, it's called the "Polar Ants Arctic Research Facility," the project attempts to "challenge the igloo" by proposing a methodology that subtracts from the ice cap rather than adding to it. Using a team of light-sensitive "Antbots," the machines do the dangerous work of scouting for and extracting terrain that's suitable for underground dens -- but made for humans rather than bears.
The project aims to create a "self-regulating, self-contained and autonomous" polar architecture that also has an unique organizational aspect to it, say the designers:
A combination of all programmatic and technical requirements results in the need to address this institutional model as an urban planning problem, as much as an architectural one. The need for, as well as organization, and spatial relationship between living, working, and storage (for living and research equipment) spaces and the constant fluctuation of these, both physically and quantifiably, proposes a need for a unique urban planning system.
The ice itself is a fascinating substrate for building, especially in the context of changing seasonal cycles, as the designers describe:
As ice makes up the entire physical environment of the Arctic cap, different times of the year present vastly different ground conditions; namely various ice thicknesses, hardness and layering of the ice, topographical features and overall ice coverage. As these factors change over the course of the year so do all architectural and formal qualities associated with them. Ice has very unique structural capabilities, ventilation and lighting qualities, all of which are dependent on temperature and other atmospheric factors. Seasonal ice processes, and how ice melts and freezes over the course of a year, also greatly impact its composition, topography and layering. As a transformative process in itself, ice is a highly dynamic material, constantly redefining its formal make up.
As the seasons change, there's also the possibility that these tunnel networks break up and migrate. It's definitely an interesting proposal that would further aid and shape the future climate science and Arctic exploration -- though we wonder at the wisdom and impact any large-scale extraction of Arctic ice like this would have in the long-term.