Halley VI Research Station

Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica

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The Halley VI Research Station is one of the most challenging and technically complex buildings ever delivered, in the harshest climate on earth. The world’s first fully relocatable, permanently manned Antarctic research station, it redefines polar architecture and engineering.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) had an ambitious scientific goal to carry out pioneering research in space weather (changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space), near space atmosphere and climate change, in an extreme environment where snow levels change and the ice pack shifts.

The Halley VI research area is the southernmost Antarctic station operated by BAS and is located on the 150-meter-thick (492-feet-thick) Brunt Ice Shelf, which flows out to sea at an annual rate of 400 meters (1,312 feet). Snow levels on the ice shelf rise by around one meter every year with temperatures dropping to -56° Celsius (-69° Fahrenheit). Design principles centered around survivability, maintainability and livability, allowing the station to function reliably and economically as a home for dozens of scientists who will be living there for up to 18 months at a time.

Some of the immense technical challenges involved required considerations of logistics, extreme cold, wind and snow environments, snow accumulation, moving ice, narrow construction windows, environmental protocols and tight financial constraints.

David Willetts, U.K. minister for universities and science, hailed it as “a triumph of British design, innovation and engineering,” and Michael Pinnock, board member, science delivery, BAS, regarded the project as “a major step forward in the evolution of British polar stations and the culmination of a truly collaborative approach.”

Halley VI’s success can be attributed to an intimate collaborative process among AECOM, BAS, Hugh Broughton Architects and contractor Galliford Try. AECOM responded to BAS’s design brief by producing a compelling concept design for a sustainable research station that offered ease of delivery, construction, operation and decommissioning.

According to Michael Wright, a regional director with AECOM’s building engineering team: “The design’s success also rests on a “comprehensive understanding of the station’s scientific mission, and the extreme conditions affecting the base and the scientists who call it home.”

Wright, who worked on the project from its inception with AECOM’s design partner Hugh Broughton Architects, explains: “From the outset we agreed that this was first and foremost an engineering project and we’d need to come up with something that no one else had ever done.”

The end result was the competition-winning modular design concept with a station sitting on giant ski-based foundations that provide secure footing and a mode of relocation. Its hydraulic legs allow the base to mechanically “climb” out of the snow. As the ice shelf moves out towards the ocean, the modules can be lowered onto the skis using the hydraulics and towed by bulldozers to a new, safer location farther inland.

One of the major aims of the Halley VI project was to minimize the environmental footprint of the station. The facility uses the latest energy-saving technology, including bioreactors for sewage treatment and two-stage incinerators for the clean burning of certain types of waste. Translucent nanoaerogel panels, the most thermally efficient material known, were incorporated and substantially reduce energy loss in the extreme, harsh climate.

The successful delivery of Halley VI was a fantastic example of design, innovation, construction and procurement at its best, requiring an intimate collaborative process between client, design team, main contractor and supply chain. The design and construction included unique technology transfers from other industries, and a range of totally original inventions.

Awards

  • ENR (Engineering News-Record) Excellence Awards 2014 – Overall Global Project of the year
  • Architizer A Awards 2014 – Jury and Popular vote winner – Higher Education Institutions & Research Facilities
  • Civic Trust Award 2014
  • Civic Trust Special Award for Sustainability 2014
  • Structural Awards 2013 Award for Sustainability
  • BCI (British Construction Industry) Award 2013, International Project of the Year
  • RIBA International Award 2013
  • AIA (The American Institute of Architects) U.K. Chapter Excellence in Design 2013