Over a year ago, on February 25th, 2012, an explosion occurred in the machine room of Brazil’s Antarctic research station at Keller Peninsula. The base was devastated by fire, and two people died in the event. An unfillable void was left for their families, yet a chasm remained as well for Brazil’s scientific presence on the continent of Antarctica.
But from the ashes of this tragedy, a bold vision has arisen for the country’s commitment to polar research. The initiative is spearheaded by the Polar and Climate Center at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. As the first step in a 10-year action plan, a design competition began in January to rebuild Estação Antártica Comandante Ferraz (Commander Ferraz Antarctic Station).
Recently, the Institute of Architects of Brazil and the Brazilian Navy unveiled the winning proposal at a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Out of 74 competing submissions, Estúdio 41, an architectural design firm from Curitiba, won first place and a cash prize of R$100,000 (about US$50,000). Estúdio 41’s thoughtful entry was led by architect Fabio Henrique Faria along with his colleagues: Emerson Vidigal, Eron Costin, and João Gabriel Rosa.
Estúdio 41 designs Antarctic base
The members of Estúdio 41 are sensitive to the site’s history and respect the symbolism of the new building. In such a hostile and remote environment, one has to contend with nature and face the frailty of human life. The firm’s design statement envisions these challenges positively:
In certain places on the planet nature sometimes creates adverse conditions for the human body. In these locales, one thinks of a building as almost like constructing a garment, an artifact that protects and comforts. One treats it a problem of technological performance, but it must be combined with aesthetics.
The pre-fabricated facility is partitioned by use. The shorter upper block contains the areas for living, dining and sleeping, while the longer lower structure holds the labs, maintenance areas, and garages. A small perpendicular segment — which unites the two parallels — is reserved for social functions like conference rooms, an internet café, and a library. Away from the main structure are areas for a heliport and fuel tanks.
the Station adapts to Extremes
During the busy summer months — which last from November to March — the entire station can house up to 64 people, including science researchers and Navy personnel; however, the winter crew is expected to be half that number. Most civilians will visit in 30-day shifts during the ‘warmer’ summertime.
The structures will be elevated on adjustable pillars that can adapt to Antarctica’s extreme weather fluctuations including thawing. Moreover, the architects kept conservation in mind for the project — minimizing the station’s impact on the wildlife and surrounding plants of Keller Peninsula. Though the base’s energy needs will be augmented by solar panels and wind turbines, the main generator will use ethanol from Brazil for reliable, on-demand power.
Estúdio 41 considers their winning design as only a preliminary study of what the scientific outpost will become; the final plans should be ready by December. If everything stays on schedule (at an estimated cost of about US$52 million), Brazil’s new research station in Antarctica will operating by March, 2015 — less than two years from now.