In 1964 Archigram member Ron Herron proposed the Walking City, a giant mobile structure that would move to where the resources were.Hugh Broughton Architects and engineering giant AECOM won an international competition to build the Halley VI base for the British Antarctic Survey. On February 5, 2013, it is officially opened.
Building in Antarctica is tough; snow eventually buries almost anything you build. Halley Base V was built on extendible stilts, but after 20 years they were encased in 75 feet of ice and couldn't work anymore. The Base is also built on a moving ice shelf, so the buildings really have to move horizontally as well as vertically.
Hugh Broughton solved the problem by building an Archigram-like walking city. The architect explains:
To avoid the fate of previous abandoned stations, the modules are supported on giant steel skis and hydraulically driven legs. The hydraulic legs allow the station to mechanically “climb” up out of the snow every year to avoid being buried. And as the ice shelf moves out towards the ocean, the modules can be lowered onto the skis and towed by bulldozers to a new safer location further inland. The new Halley VI can therefore continue to respond to the changing needs of Antarctic science for many more years than its projected design life.
It is also very green; the architect continues:
Halley VI is the most environmentally friendly facility that BAS has built. Low on environmental impact during construction, with an extremely efficient, environmentally aware performance life cycle, it can be easily moved and eventually taken apart when the time comes. Halley VI will be a visitor to Antarctica, not a resident. The buildings rest entirely on the surface of the ice shelf. This mobility and flexibility means that the new station will survive and perform on the ice for far longer than any of its distinguished predecessors. The design provides flexibility for the station to be adapted, rearranged and relocated.
It's also fun; The red module has a hydroponic salad garden, a climbing wall, it's lined with aromatic cedar and the colours are "refreshing and stimulating." No doubt it is still hard to over-winter, but it looks more comfortable than the way Mawson or Byrd did it.
The architect tells Architectural Record:
“It has been a fascinating project,” says architect Hugh Broughton, “because it combines microscopic examples of many different building types – an operating theater, air traffic control, a power plant – rolled into 20,000 square feet.”
Like space and underwater exploration, there are so many lessons to be learned here that can be applied to conventional living: Living with (a lot) less, small space multifunction design, building to last, not to mention good insulation. Perhaps we will see walking cities closer to home soon.