Lightweight Structures in Antarctic.



Dwelling of a Southern Aonikenk family. Source: Dr. Elsa Barberia’s personal archives, undated (J.Fernandoy)

The Antarctic – one of the most extreme environments on earth. The environmental conditions are even more extreme as they are in the arctic and sub-arctic regions like Greenland. But also in the Antarctic researchers, engineers and architects investigate in built environments such as small settlements and e.g. research stations.  Jessica Fernandoy studied lightweight structures for remote areas in polar regions in her PhD. Her project was devoted to demonstrate both: the heritage and potential of lightweight structures in polar areas. First part of her research is a submitted collection of lightweight structures designed and built for the extreme South and the diversity of approaches attempted by ´Polar designers`.

Cases included vernacular tent systems employed by extinguished indigenous communities of the Subantarctic areas , pioneering efforts using modern lightweight systems in the 70’s decade (see below), as well as the latest attempts where highly constrained designs are benefited from parametric design methods to produce more geometrically complex systems.

The Admudnsen-Scott Antactic Station. Source: National Science Foundation, 1975 (J.Fernandoy)

The second part of the study contains the speculative design of a new research facility in Antarctica. A hybrid structure out of trussed Arches, tensile membrane sections and cables nets. The case was used to explore the possibility of conceiving a system for Polar purposes of a larger span and more complex configuration that currently seen, while still subject to the strict constraints imposed by the Antarctic context. This is achieved by a method defined as ‘partial structural optimisation, by which FEM, parametric CAD and form-finding tools were integrated in a single platform.

The relevant paper of her work you will find here:


Could it be a possible concept for the arctic and sub-arctic regions? One design concept from theopenworkshop by Neeraj Bhatia is a prototype house in Canada, ´The Drift House`.  A lightweight structure that indicates to interact with the dynamics of snowdrift by changing its structure. Also this project is dissociated from the permanent architecture in form of prefabricated housing in a traditional way, imported from temperate climates.

The concept of climate adaptation is not a new issue in architecture. Especially extreme climates have an increasing demand for implementing the climate conditions in the early design process. Snowdrift and snow accumulation integrated in the design process of architecture is an investigation in my PhD Project. Lightweight structures could extent possibilities for the architectural design in arctic regions to integrate snowdrift and minimise construction- and transport cost.


One thought on “Lightweight Structures in Antarctic.

  1. Interesting post. Makes me think about lightweight parametrically designed structures that could be economically added to existing structures to deal with drifting and snow accumulation. Its easy to throw big money at these issues, but the more interesting thing is to deal with things economically, and make the added expenses so valuable that they are adopted.

    Liked by 1 person

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