We interviewed Hugh Broughton of Hugh Broughton Architects, which in 2005 won the international RIBA competition for the design of a new British research station in Antarctica Halley VI.

Following Urban Times‘ attendance of the Intelligence Squared ‘If Conference‘, we approached the best speakers to get a series of interviews with them. We interviewed Hugh Broughton of Hugh Broughton Architects, which in 2005 won the international RIBA competition for the design of a new British research station in Antarctica Halley VI.

Hugh’s work for the British Antarctic Survey has led to other commissions in Antarctica, most notably winning the international competition to design an Antarctic research station for Spain in the South Shetland Islands and a collaboration with Samsung Construction for the design of a new base for Korean Terra Nova Bay.

Interview with Hugh Broughton

Q: What was your inspiration in starting up Hugh Broughton Architects and why the focus on designing architecture for extreme environments?

Hugh in antarctica.

A: When I set up HBA I wanted to work with inspiring clients with interesting briefs demanding exceptional designs.

We started focusing on ‘extreme design’ in 2005, following our winning entry in the RIBA International Design competition for the new Halley VI Antarctic Research Station. We recognised that our process driven approach to architecture was particularly appropriate to the challenges of designing buildings for remote environments and that it was an incredibly creative, enjoyable and rewarding process. Once we discovered that the market for scientific research facilities in extreme environments was not as limited as one could have imagined, it was an easy choice to dedicate time to the development of this particular field of expertise.

Q: What were the main challenges being posed for building a new Antarctic Base?

A: The challenges were many and can be considered on a number of different levels.

Life Critical issues: How to sustain a reduced crew of 16 in a station which is cut off from physical help for 9 months of the year and has to endure one of the harshest sub-zero environments on earth.

This divides in to the following set of main challenges:

Halley VI site early Feb 2011. Copright BAS

Environmental: Wind and temperatures (as noted). The lowest recorded temperature at Halley is -56oC. Very high UV levels partially on account of the depleted ozone layer. Spindrift (microscopic particles of ice blown in the wind) very quickly work their way into any crevice or void in a building structure.

Physical: There were a great deal of physical and mechanical issues to overcome to ensure the station is well insulated, and airtight. The modules are independently anchored to the ice through their ski foundations, to assist their resistance to over-turning in high winds.

Logistical: Getting access to the site was a huge challenge with the ‘bottle neck’ being the crossing of the sea ice between the relief ship and the ice shelf. This has an absolute bearing capacity of 9.5 tonnes.

Services: Ensuring all service systems operate and can be maintained with the reduced crew in the harsh winters. It is essential for the generators to maintain constant performance to ensure the station is heated and lit and life is sustained.In addition there is the challenge of psychological well being. As noted, 105 days of constant darkness has a serious impact on the psychological well being of the station crew. For this reason we introduced daylight simulation lamps, a hydroponics system so the crew can enjoy fresh salads throughout the winter and a palette of colours designed to encourage energy levels and vitality in the station.

Mockup standard module in Cape Town

Q: How can we ensure that the mistakes of the previous Halley’s are avoided in its sixth state?

A: We closely studied the workings and operational methods of Halley V to ensure that mistakes made there were not repeated. We were also issued with a document called ‘Lessons learned at Halley V’ from the Client as they wanted to ensure Halley VI was as perfect as possible. We were also made aware of the positive aspects of Halley V, which BAS wanted to retain, such as the connection to the outside environment and the world class science that was being carried out there.

The most evident ‘failure’ of the five predecessors to Halley VI was their inability to cope with the rising snow levels, which resulted in the stations being lost and abandoned under the ice. Halley V copes with this problem up to a certain point, but the effort required to raise the habitat platform every year is exceptionally demanding. Halley VI’ s hydraulic legs overcome this issue, offering a straightforward solution to the rising snow levels. The station relocatability is also crucial to overcoming the fate of the previous stations, preventing the station disappearing on an iceberg.

Halley VI front view