Architecture in Antarctica Part II: Prefabrication in Action
Holt Watters Field Camp Phase I
In January of 2022, I joined the ColoradoBuildingWorkshop design build certificate program at the University of Colorado Denver while studying for my Master of Architecture degree. To say that we were ecstatic when we found out that our project was to design and build a research station for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be an understatement. The Holt Watters Field Camp would be located at Livingston Island, Antarctica for the NOAA scientists to conduct their scientific research. There was an incredible amount of research, design, and construction logistics throughout the project not related to prefabrication, but for the purposes of this article I will focus on that topic.
Design began in January of 2023 and by March 2023 we were beginning to build… the prefabricated buildings on the CU Denver campus.
We fully built out two buildings: the galley (656 SF) and berthing (444 SF) in three months. Because of the strict construction regulations in Antarctica, our goal was for the construction team in Antarctica to not make a single cut. This would limit toxins released into the air and overall construction waste at the permanent site. That meant that every single piece of wood, cladding, flooring, etc. had to be cut before transportation and organized in a way that was clear to a different team of builders at the permanent site.
Every single part of the building was labeled and organized as a “kit of parts”, almost like an Ikea manual. For example: what would become “lockers” for the scientists' personal belongings in their bunk units were organized by zines. The zines were used to guide fellow classmates in the prefabrication phase, used for labeling during disassembly, and were later used to guide the construction team during the permanent build. Each piece of precut, presanded, prestained, and preassembled plywood was labeled and packaged as a prefabricated kit.
The prefabrication phase was completed and on display at the CU Denver campus in June of 2022. By July, the buildings were being disassembled and organized for transportation. The prefabricated buildings were packaged up into two shipping containers. The shipping containers were driven to California, where they were loaded onto a ship to Chile, and were finally loaded on a different vessel to Livingston Island for arrival in late December 2022. Because of the rough terrain, the ship wasn’t able to pull too close to shore. The materials in the shipping containers were unloaded from the ship and onto zodiac boats where they were driven to shore and loaded onto the back of ATVs to the permanent site. This intense transportation situation was an additional benefit to prefabrication and set design constraints on allowable sizes and weights of each part.
The incredible building crew reassembled the buildings on the permanent site at Livingston Island, Antarctica. Holt Watters Field Camp Phase II was designed in Fall of 2023, prefabricated in Spring of 2023 and construction on the same site begins in December of 2023.
Because of the environmental implications of construction, the transportation requirements, the severe weather, and the efficiency needed on site, prefabrication was the ideal method of construction for this project. These are the reasons that most buildings in Antarctica are built this way. But, that does not mean that prefabrication is the right construction process for every project and it is incredibly important to select the method that will best serve the project.
Written by Taylor Kortas
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