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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 03:28 GMT 04:28 UK
Design wanted for Antarctic base
Meteorologists launch a weather balloon - courtesy British Antarctic Survey
The Halley base is where scientists discovered the ozone layer hole
Architects who fancy a challenge have been asked to put their ingenuity to the test against some of the harshest conditions on the planet.

With a site 16,000km from the UK on a 150m-thick shelf of floating ice, designing a new base for the British Antarctic Survey (Bas) is no picnic.

It must be able to house 52 staff in comfort despite icy cold and wind.

Bas and the Royal Institute of British Architects hope the 19m project will inspire architects across the world.

Work to construct the winning design, to be announced in September 2005, will have to be completed within the two-month Antarctic summer.

All materials, workers and supplies will have to be brought as close as possible by ship before being loaded on to sledges for the final part of the journey.

The project will be funded by a government grant.

You have 55 days of complete darkness, 10 months of winter and temperatures of -5C in summer to -30C in winter
Professor Chris Rapley, Bas
The complex must be self-sufficient, have minimal impact on the pristine Antarctic environment and house instruments for Bas's research into the environment and climate change.

Professor Chris Rapley, director of Bas, told BBC News Online it was an "extreme place".

"It is cold, windy and completely flat. It's very beautiful under certain circumstances - or it can be grey and unpleasant or blowing a 'hooley' with an associated white-out, in which case everyone stays indoors.

Halley base in darkness - courtesy British Antarctic Survey
Complete darkness surrounds the station for 55 days a year
"You have 55 days of complete darkness, 10 months of winter and temperatures of -5C in summer to -30C in winter."

The existing Halley base - the fifth to occupy the spot since 1956 - is the most successful design to date because it can be jacked up on extendable legs to keep it above an accumulated snowfall of 1.5m a year.

"The first four bases were built on the surface and gradually got covered with snow and ultimately got so deep they became crushed by the weight of ice and had to be replaced," said Prof Rapley.

"People living like troglodytes and having to go down a long vertical shaft to get to their homes was not ideal."

City in microcosm

However the current base on stilts, built in 1992, must be replaced before 2010 because the ice on which it stands is likely to "calve" from the shelf and float away as icebergs.

To protect the Antarctic environment, the structure must be removed when the new one is built.

The base's residents - among them scientists, engineers, carpenters and chefs - must be given comfortable living quarters, a kitchen, restaurant, library and rest areas to escape the 80mph gusts of wind outside.

Halley base - courtesy British Antarctic Survey
The existing base is at risk of breaking off the ice shelf
"These are like mini-cities in microcosm, they have to be self-contained," said Prof Rapley. "There's also an airport and a harbour because ships come in a little way away, so the design must support all these functions."

He said the Royal Institute of British Architects had jumped at the chance to back the international competition.

"We will select the teams that come in with the best ideas," he said. "Advances mean we can make it more environmentally friendly and make more efficient use of fuel."

The architects will also have to do their best to create a stimulating environment for staff through the dark winter months, Prof Rapley said.

"There's an emperor penguin colony which everyone goes to visit which is wonderful - but otherwise it's a pretty stark environment, just a big flat ice shelf."

The BBC's Christine McGourty
"The British Antarctic Survey needs to build a brand new 19m research station"

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