By Vicky Richardson

26 July 2013 - 15:34

Halley VI is the British Antarctic Survey's latest research station, able to withstand up to -55ºC. Photo: A. Dubber, British Antarctic Survey
Halley VI is the British Antarctic Survey's latest research station, able to withstand up to -55ºC. ©

Photo: A. Dubber, British Antarctic Survey

As the IceLab exhibition opens in Glasgow today, the British Council’s Vicky Richardson, who commissioned the exhibition, talks to us about new architecture in Antarctica, one of the earth’s harshest climates and most international places.

This is the first in a series of interviews about the exhibition.

I first thought of doing an exhibition about Antarctic architecture in about 2010 when I visited one of the architects in the show – Hugh Broughton. I went to his studio in West London and there was a model of Halley VI, the British Antarctic Survey‘s research station and I was really awestruck by it.

It was under construction at that point and it was such an amazing thing and incredible story about all the research that was going on inside the building, as well as the way the building was designed and built.

We then worked with Arts Catalyst [curators of the exhibition] who developed the idea of looking at both the architecture and the science of Antarctica and then at five different examples of research stations, considering the subject from an international perspective.

Antarctica: One of the most international places on earth

There’s Halley VI, the UK station, research stations from South Korea, India, Belgium, and a speculative design by David Garcia, a Danish architect. His design is a provocation to how you can build a research station. It is made out of ice. It hasn’t been built yet, but we put it into the exhibition, because we thought it was a good counterpoint to the other, existing buildings.

And so, the exhibition was this evolving idea about one of the most international places on earth – Antarctica. The research there is really only possible through international co-operation, so it seemed like a perfect subject for the kind of work the British Council does, which is making those connections and creating opportunities for people from around the world to talk about universal issues.

Antarctica, a blank slate for architects

Antarctica is an amazing place for architects to design for, because it’s one of the only really natural landscapes on earth. If you think of every other place on earth, the landscape has been made and remade by man, but Antarctica was only discovered relatively recently in about 1820 and so, for architects, it’s this completely blank slate and there’s no existing context to respond to.

Antarctica, through the Antarctic Treaty, has been dedicated to science as a place for research and it’s not a place for everyday human settlement. It’s really interesting in terms of its architecture and the way man views it as a place to inhabit, because it means that everything that happens there has to be about the research and also, the research has to be shared between nations.

I think what Antarctica produces is a really imaginative, optimistic type of architecture. There are also all these incredible constraints on building there in terms of the climate and the isolated nature of Antarctica, which are massive challenges, but I think architects often do their best work in relation to those kind of challenges.

Science and architecture are inseparable in Antarctica

The IceLab exhibition is an interdisciplinary exhibition, so we’re looking at architecture, science and then we’re also looking at the subject through the eyes of an artist – Torsten Lauschmann. This is an interest we shared with Arts Catalyst – the way different disciplines can be inspired by each other and the fact that the science going on in these buildings is absolutely fundamental to their core purpose.

It seemed impossible to talk about these buildings without talking about what happened inside them, which is the scientific research – both the lab research happening inside the buildings, but also the expeditions that scientists have to do out on the ice shelf for core drilling or looking at the atmosphere, so the science is the whole reason for this new genre of architecture in Antarctica. That’s why we’re treating those subjects together. The two subjects are inseparable.

The exhibition is on at Architecture and Design Scotland at The Lighthouse in Glasgow from 26 July to 2 October 2013 and will then move to Manchester before touring internationally. Download the IceLab e-book.

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