Pioneering Modes of in-habitation in the Extreme | London AA Visiting School

Project

Human presence in Antarctica, necessary to conduct essential scientific investigations on the pressing global problems of climate change and sea-level rise, is not conceivable without technologically advanced architecture. At the eve of the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the Southernmost continent, the most inhospitable environment on planet earth with record temperatures of -80°C and maximum wind velocities of 327km/h, we believe it is urgent to research and document the extreme Antarctic territory with critical tools of analysis and representation.

Conceived to shed light on a continent that lies in the dark six months per year, Antarctica 200 is a cross-disciplinary project that aims to unveil the unique traits of the continent-laboratory, asses its indisputable role in the global ecosystem, understand the conflicting and fragile geopolitical implications of the Antarctic Treaty System, and document the evolution of Antarctic architecture to challenge the state of the arts and bring to the foreground prototypes for inhabitation in the extreme.

A detailed analysis of Antarctic settlements (from historic whalers shelters to the hyper-advanced contemporary scientific stations) will be instrumental to assess the logistic and technological complexity of building in such an extreme environment, the physical and psychological effects of remote inhabitation, and the levels of self-sustainability attainable with today’s technology – the latter being of upmost importance when considering life on other planets.

Directed by Giulia Foscari and Francesco Bandarin, Antarctica 200 relies on the close collaboration of a group of global experts from the fields of architecture, engineering, science, glaciology, international law, anthropology, fashion technology, literature and art.

Ranging from the scale of clothing (arguably the first architectural envelope at Antarctic latitudes) to that of the rapidly transforming polar territory, the body of research will be debated in occasion of the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale and will ultimately be disseminated in the form of a Publication

Venues

24thJune: Scott Polar Research Institute – Cambridge

25th– 30thJune: Architectural Association School of Architecture London

To sign up: www.aaschool.ac.uk/STUDY/VISITING/polarlab

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Poster courtesy of The Pomo
Poster courtesy of The Pomo

Interview

What prompted the research project Antarctica 200 ?

The initial impulse for launching Antarctica 200 was the sudden realization that at the eve of the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the Southernmost continent, the history of human presence in Antarctica has surprisingly been neglected. In the midst of the Anthropocene, with climate change high on the global agenda, Antarctic resource extraction held at bay by the fragile Madrid Protocol and an unprecedented growth of Antarctic investments (and consequently of researchers, scientific stations and tourists), the project stems from the conviction that it is urgent to shift our attention South to research past and future modes of inhabitation in the extreme.

What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?

The overall ambition of Antarctica 200 is to unveil the unique traits of the continent laboratory, asses its indisputable role in the global ecosystem, envision new models for intergovernmental and transnational cohabitation, prototype experimental designs (from the scale of buildings to that of clothing) and contribute, if only in an infinitesimal way, to the ongoing research that preludes to the possibility of human survival beyond planet earth.

Image courtesy of Hugh Broughton Architects
Image courtesy of Hugh Broughton Architects

What prompted the foundation of the Polar Labs, and, how does the London-based Polar Lab act as a catalyst to engage the realm of academia and develop part of the overall Antarctica 200 research?

The Polar Lab is the Academic Platform of Antarctica 200. Essentially, it consists of a network of research clusters distributed around the globe in countries which have an intense history with Antarctica. Though apparently counterintuitive for a territory that defies national claims, the ambition of the Polar Lab is to produce a collective body of research on the continent that is seen from local perspectives, encouraging the un-censoring of unique narratives and study cases otherwise concealed in regional archives and local intelligence. Learning from the Antarctic Scientific Programmes, far from being a canonical course, the Polar Lab acts as a testing ground for a new pedagogic model.

In London, the Polar Lab punctuates the academic year of the Architectural Association (AA) with a series of lectures, workshops, seminars and visiting schools developed in collaboration with expert practitioners from the fields of architecture, engineering, science, glaciology, international law, anthropology, fashion technology, literature and art. The cross-disciplinary nature of the programme mirrors the multi-faceted agenda of the project.

Final jury during the last Polar Lab workshop at the Architectural Association in London
Final jury during the last Polar Lab workshop at the Architectural Association in London
Hugh Broughton lecturing at the Architectural Association as part of the Polar lab series on the challenges of designing in Antarctica
Hugh Broughton lecturing at the Architectural Association as part of the Polar lab series on the challenges of designing in Antarctica

What informed the topic of this specific visiting school 'Pioneering modes of inhabitation in the Extreme?’ How does it relate to the wider themes outlined within Antarctica 200?

The upcoming Polar Lab event in London is developed within the context of the AA Visiting School. Focusing on the Heroic Era huts built at the beginning of the 20th century by Roald Amundsen (whose primate was to reach the geographic South Pole first) and by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the programme aims to question two fundamental hypothesis put forth by the Antarctica 200 team. Could we theorize that in extreme territories of Antarctica there is a unique form of “interior urbanism”? And, could we state that at that same latitudes clothing should be intended as the first architectural envelope?

Fuel storage space, Framheim, May 1911  [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
Fuel storage space, Framheim, May 1911 [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]

What informed the focus on the two specific case studies of Cape Evans and Framheim?

The two huts, respectively erected by Scott and Amundsen, were chosen as study cases for the workshop as they epitomize the two predominant typologies of pioneering Antarctic architecture. Whilst their layout reflects the social structures of the respective countries of the expedition parties and the typologies respond to the site upon which they were built (bed-rock and ice), their metamorphosis mirrors the relentless challenges faced by their inhabitants, who developed symptoms of polar depression due to the winter-long confinement in a hyper-dense interior.

Scott's Cubicle in the wardroom at Cape Evans  [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
Scott's Cubicle in the wardroom at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
'The Tenements' space in the mess room at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
'The Tenements' space in the mess room at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]

How will students engage with the reconstruction of these spaces?

A detailed analysis of original expedition diaries and archival photographs will enable the students to unveil and reconstruct – by means of drawings – the evolution of these embryonic examples of Antarctic architecture. Access to the precious original documentation is possible thanks to the close collaboration between the Polar Lab and the Cambridge-based Scott Polar Research Institute, the British Antarctic Society and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

The interior of Framheim before inhabitation [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
The interior of Framheim before inhabitation [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
The interior of Framheim during Mid-winter celebrations [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
The interior of Framheim during Mid-winter celebrations [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]

What is the ultimate objective of visualising these structures and their transformation through time?

Survival in the deep South is not conceivable without architecture. Unforgiving weather, months of total darkness and isolation are just some of the quasi extra-terrestrial site conditions that enforce a constant process of optimisation of Antarctic structures, internal layouts and materials. Unveiling the elements and metamorphosis of the early settlements through architectural drawings has the twofold potential of mapping the evolution of Antarctic architecture and launching a much-needed debate on contemporary building prototypes.

Ponting lecturing on his travels to Japan at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
Ponting lecturing on his travels to Japan at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
Captain Scott's birthday celebrations at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]
Captain Scott's birthday celebrations at Cape Evans [Image courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute]

How important will the medium of the drawing be in trying to analyse, understand and communicate the first human settlements within the Southernmost continent?

The ultimate metaphor of the collective neglect of Antarctica is embodied by the pixelated and fragmented view offered by Google of the continent. The paradox by which the most mediated and surveilled territory of the world remains illegible even on the ever-present search engine, is evocative of the collective level of disinformation. In an attempt to subvert this condition, drawing will be central to Antarctica 200, not only as a representational tool of the first human settlements but rather as a medium that allows for critical research on the polar territory.

Image courtesy of Google maps
Image courtesy of Google maps

About

Polar Lab

The Academic Platform of Antarctica 200 is the Polar Lab. Curated by the Antarctica 200 directors, the Polar Lab is conceived as a global network of research clusters embedded into academic institutions and organizations. The overall ambition of the Polar Lab outposts is to produce a collective body of research on the continent seen from local perspectives. Though apparently counterintuitive for a territory that defies national claims, such approach encourages the uncensoring of unique narratives and study cases otherwise concealed in regional archives and local intelligence.  

To date, the Polar Lab network counts on the collaboration of the following institutions/persons: 

• Architectural Association School of Architecture (London, UK) – the Polar Lab is directed by Giulia Foscari and Francesco Bandarin. Beyond the official calendar of events, the Polar Lab is closely collaborating with the Master program of Landscape and Urbanism. 

• Escola de Cidade (Sao Paulo, BR); the Polar Lab is directed by Sol Camacho. 

• Hong Kong University (Hong Hong SAR); the Polar Lab is directed by Juan Du. 

• Ness (Buenos Aires, AR); the Polar Lab is directed by Florencia Rodriguez. 

• Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Santiago de Chile, CL); the Polar Lab is directed by Arturo Lyon. 

About

Giulia Foscari is an architect, curator and author who has been practising in Europe, Asia and the Americas. She is the founder of UNA, a Hamburg-based international architecture practice focused on cultural and residential projects.

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