Building a complex serving multiple special needs on harsh terrain in extreme weather conditions with a not-so-ordinary construction method. It is Poland’s new Antarctic Station in a nutshell. Sounds interesting? Let’s take a look at the project, which will be ready by 2024.
Rising sea levels threatened to wash the building away
The Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, operated by the PAN Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, can be found on King George Island, 120 km north of Antarctica. In 1977, the main building was several metres from the shoreline, but now, due to climate change and rising sea levels, the waves of the stormy seas are threatening to wash the building away.
The architects point out that the island has tough weather conditions with high katabatic winds, sub-zero temperatures and high levels of atmospheric precipitation. Due to the absence of the necessary technical infrastructure on-site, the building was designed in a modular system. The modules travelled 40,000 km and over the ocean via sea containers and the construction crew of Dekpol Budownictwo put them together on-site without the use of heavy equipment.
Trial construction in Poland
The first attempt to build the station from the pre-prepared elements took place in Poland. “We had to conduct a trial construction once the production of the steel elements was complete and before they were loaded onto the ship to find and eliminate any design and production mistakes” – Sławomir Młyński, the research and development director of Dekpol Budownictwo as well as the CEO of Betpref explained to Eurobuild CEE.
The first ship with the materials and the machinery required for the construction set sail from Gdańsk in 2020. Since then it has transported around 2,000 tonnes of cargo to King George Island. Unfortunately, the construction work on the station has been delayed. Even a project this far from Europe has been affected by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and inflation.
Conditioned for the Antarctic …with a twist
Making a minimal impact on the environment, the station is elevated 3m over the landscape resembling an elegant floating vessel when viewed from a sea. This is done using a steel lattice substructure which allows for the free flow of water, wind and snow underneath the station. Wind turbines have been located south of the station as a potential source of renewable energy.
The designers also added a twist to the building as its sectional profile acts as an upside-down ‘aircraft wing’ using incoming wind to keep the station pushed firmly to the ground. The building was further developed to make expansion possible in the future, without changing basic spatial and functional principles.
Both the design and the construction work had to be adjusted to the conditions of the Antarctic. Firmly anchored in the ground with concrete feet and standing three metres tall on steel supports, the station is to be constructed from glued wood with a gold-coloured external cladding made from an alloy of aluminium and copper.
Research space, library, sauna and greenhouse
The station provides scientists with research space as well as a ‘home away from home’ atmosphere. Besides the laboratories, flexible spaces for work, research, and leisure the design also contains exercise rooms, a library, and a sauna as well as places to gather and share a cup of tea. The architects also proposed a new area for a new purpose – a 100 sqm greenhouse for growing vegetables along with other plants.
During the Antarctic summer, the building will be able to accommodate up to 29 people. In winter this number will drop to 8/11 people. All building services have been designed to accommodate the variable number of residents in the building throughout the year
The surroundings should be left undisturbed
The Polish station on King George Island carries out research into oceanography as well as glaciology, meteorology, biology and ecology. The station manager, Dariusz Puczko is responsible for ensuring the construction does the most minor damage to the environment. “The surroundings should be left undisturbed despite the extensive building work,” – emphasises Michał Skowron, CEO of Dekpol Budownictwo.