Commander Robert Falcon Scott's hut at Cape Evans was quite the place. It's not exactly a tiny house at 25 feet by 55 feet, but it did accommodate 33 people, so that's only 41 square feet per person, and you don't get outside much in a polar winter. But there was a lot to do; They actually printed a newspaper (The South Polar Times) and had a piano. Visitors from Amundsen's party had lunch there; Roland Huntford quotes one saying that it is "a known fact that Englishmen, as long as there is any possibility, drag many of the luxuries of civilization with them into the wilderness." The hut itself was fabricated in Poplar, East London and insulated with seaweed and lit with acetylene.
Scott himself writes in his diary on January 19th, 1911 that "The hut is becoming the most comfortable dwelling place imaginable. We have made unto ourselves a truly seductive home, within the walls of which peace, quiet and comfort reign supreme."
That certainly seems like a bit of an exaggeration, judging from this photo of the officers' quarters scanned from Scott's Last Expedition. When it was all over, the surviving members of the expedition abandoned the hut and all the stuff in it, much of which was preserved by the cold. In Shackleton's Cape Royds base they even found three cases of perfectly good scotch whiskey, which after a bit of testing (and tasting?) have been returned to the site.
However, almost a hundred years of freeze-thaw cycles took its toll on the building, according to Christine Dell'Amore in National Geographic.
Over the decades the timber-frame huts drifted into snowbanks. During the summer, the dark color of the huts warms up the surrounding snow and causes water to melt and seep into nooks and crannies. This creates a moist environment inside the hut, perfect habitat for mold and fungi. What's more, the water that leaks in refreezes and expands, squeezing the walls and joints apart and causing structural damage.
For the last decade the Antarctic Heritage Trust has been working to restore it and Shackleton's smaller hut at Cape Royds. The conservators have basically taken the hut apart and rebuilt it. "We took literally every board and every nail off the exterior wood paneling at Terra Nova hut," says carpenter Gordon Macdonald in National Geographic..
Now their work is done, and it really looks amazing in this video. The restored hut has a slightly different plan than the one Scott shows in his diary, but then Scott was not the last occupant of the hut and it may have been reorganized by Shackleton's crew during their 1914 expedition. Here is the plan as restored:
There are in fact five huts from different expeditions, all restored or being restored now. Some day I hope to visit them. In 2012, the hundredth anniversary of the race to the South Pole, I wrote a number of posts about the event; see them below in related links.