The technical merit behind the newest Halley Research Station is stunning. Located on an ice shelf in Antarctica, the new structure hopes to fare a little better on the frozen seas than its five predecessors. This station, which officially opens today, was realized by Hugh Broughton Architects after the firm won a competition to realize their design for the station. HBA did not exactly have experience with designing extreme cold structures before, but they did have a novel idea about how to new station could avoid becoming crushed under layers of ice and snow, which is how research stations on the ice shelf typically meet their end.
And in case the physical environment wasn’t harsh enough, the spaces have to help research personel cope with being isolated for months in darkness. In this chain of connected modules, the blue modules contain laboratory and living spaces while the red module in the the middle of the series contains special spaces to help the folks wintering on the ice shelf survive. A climbing wall, a hydroponic salad garden, and even a carefully constructed color palette: “The architect worked with a color psychologist to identify ‘refreshing and stimulating’ shades, and developed a bedside lamp with a daylight bulb to simulate sunrise.”
But I’m having to confront another question when I see images of the new project: why does science look the way that science does. This building is a psychology experiment propped up on hydraulic legs with skis at the bottom. It doesn’t need anything else to make it exciting. But the interiors still look unexciting to me, even with the meticulously selected color palette. The architect inside my brain wants the inside to look more sophisticated. This is a new space for the same research station that discovered the hole in the ozone layer some twenty-seven years ago, do they really want to live in a space that looks like a scandanavian dorm from the ’70s?
Maybe they do. The scientists I work with on a daily basis are smart, but they don’t exactly have the best taste. They’re just worried about other things: things like… science. I’ve been distracted entire meetings by terrible fonts and spent embarrassing amounts of time reformatting routinely-used paperwork or organizing the chaotic mess of shelving where we store just about everything. I think I’ve made our lab look more polished and professional, but the scientists, with their cell phones clipped to the waistband of decades-old jeans, are the ones designing the experiments that actually help advance our lab’s research.
It’s not so helpful for me look at a cutting-edge research station like the one above and see only a ceiling I can’t stand. I don’t know what happens to the quality of spaces when more and more technical requirements are packed into its walls, but it happens nonetheless.