WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The first Martians are going to need somewhere to live that can protect them from Mars’ environment and the designs are pouring in.
It is now official – BIG CEO Bjarke Ingels is the Elon Musk of extraterrestrial architects. And what both men have in common is that they both envision landing on another planet and building settlements there. While Musk has his SpaceX rockets Ingels is focusing on Mars Dune Alpha – the name of his Martian settlement project.
To this end BIG has joined forces with NASA and ICON who specialize in 3D printing buildings like the Mars Vernacular that I showed off recently. And Ingels goal is clear – to 3D print buildings on Mars.
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To conquer the Red Planet BIG has architected a dune inspired research station that’s currently being built in the Johnson Space Center which will be inhabited by four people and help NASA and its crews simulate life on Mars. From simulated equipment failure, hitches in communications and walks in outer space NASA plans on putting the team of four through their paces. And Ingels would not be Ingels if he did not market Mars Dune Alpha as the next big thing.
“The data gained from this Mars habitat research will directly inform NASA’s standards for long-duration exploration missions, and as such will potentially lay the foundation for a new Martian Vernacular. Mars Dune Alpha will take us one step closer to becoming a multiplanetary species,” he said.
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Naturally, that raises the question of whether this is really worth the effort in the first place. Certainly, anyone looking at the renderings of Ingels’ Mars dune gets an impression of the state the Earth might be in after a climate collapse though, of course, this does not answer the question of why anyone would move to Mars instead – even if Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos want to make tickets to Mars just $200,000 a piece. One way obviously.
All this talk of simulated Mars habitats then brings us to Dubai where another BIG project similarly aims to “explore the topics of dystopia and extra-terrestrial existence.”
In the desert BIG are currently developing Dubai’s Mars Science City where under four geodesic domes on an area of 17,50 hectares scientists in an experimental Mars laboratory will occupy themselves with finding ways to inhabit the planet. And here again Ingels presents himself as a Utopian.
“At its most fundamental architecture is the art and science of making our world more suitable for human life. This becomes fundamentally clear when we venture beyond our Terran origins to settle in foreign worlds. The architecture that captivates us the most is vernacular architecture that has evolved by adapting to the local climates and landscapes. With the Mars Science City, we have attempted to explore what a Martian Vernacular will look like,” he says.
That sounds exciting but ultimately only recycles the ideas of Buckminster Fuller who in the 1960s wanted to cover parts of Manhattan with an enormous glass dome. Fuller expected this would achieve a more efficient city with less heat in the summer and less cold in the winter. One of the arguments he put forward to justify it was the cost savings in clearing snow – a problem climate change could soon solve.
In actual fact Ingels’ future vision is less about efficiency and more about pure existence which interestingly recalls the Biosphere 2 project by Texan billionaire Edward Bass who in the 1990s created a closed ecological system beneath a glass dome in which a group of volunteers lived for two years on a space of 1,60 hectares. Sadly, the experiment of the simulated Earth failed – one reason being that the reinforced concrete used for the artificial habitat absorbed oxygen and participants began to run out of air. On Mars there are also the issues of extreme cold, high levels of radiation, low air pressure and low gravity. But who knows, perhaps the lack of fresh air in the Dubai project will result in a different outcome?