Architecture of survival: the habitation of Antarctica through a biophilic lens.

  • Katelyn Hudson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Shelter has always been a key quality in human constructed architectural interventions aiding in their survival. Antarctica presents a unique extreme environment which highlights this relationship and distils the design decisions around the structure down to their basic characteristics. While this environment might seem distant and unrelatable, aspects are becoming part of the new normal for common habitable locations around the world, from climatic patterns to social isolation. Investigating the history of building in this extreme environment illustrates how humans have adapted their shelters over time and what agents were employed or harnessed to enable that evolution.

It is this fundamental facet that this research explores: the history of human developed shelter in Antarctica and how nature has played a role in the architectural interventions aimed towards survival in the harsh environment. Nature in an inescapable part of life in Antarctica and plays a significant role in the development of structures. The view of ‘nature’ within this setting reflects both the immediate surroundings, as well as the value the inhabitants have given relatable elements the natural elements of ‘home’.

The relationship between human-nature connection stems from human behavioural patterns that facilitate shelter and protects through the built environment has been identified as ‘biophilic design’. A basis of design made up of attributes which recognise aspects of those patterns that are integrated contemporary building practices to further foster an appreciation and understanding of the nature environment to cultivate healthier spaces to work and live. It is this classification system of biophilic design that forms the framework of analysis of shelters and structures in Antarctica for this research.

Through a case study methodology, six examples of buildings ranging from the history of human habitation in Antarctica are explored through a triangulation of data collection that uses archival research, documentation, and interviews. The buildings selected are Robert F. Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, Douglas Mawson's Hut, Australia's Casey Station, United Kingdom's Halley VI, and the United States of America's McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Though stemming from an Anglo cultural background, they represent significant periods in the relatively short Antarctic history and illustrate different scales, building practices, material technology, and location within the continent. Beyond reviewing and reporting the history of the cases, they are then analysed based on the experiences and attributes of biophilic design to investigate how it has been integrated, providing a common set of characteristics that are relevant to human welfare to provide a framework.

Through this research, it was seen that practicality of the building elements that promote human survival through the biophilic attributes and how they were incorporated into the buildings of Antarctica. However, conditions of the time period of construction categorised what was considered 'practical.' Unexpected bureaucratic and technological aspects were found to be as much, if not more of, a barrier than the Antarctic environment, itself. Concluding this analysis, possibilities going forward to incorporate successful elements into future Antarctic structures are identified, respecting considerations found in the cases. Beyond the limited population of the southernmost continent, which the majority of the world will never visit, these elements can be employed to facilitate survival of similar situations. This could range from once-in-a-lifetime climatic events evoking characteristics of Antarctic weather patterns to the social isolation experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Date of Award13 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMarja Sarvimaki (Supervisor) & Daniela Ottmann (Supervisor)

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