Tent on Cuverville
Engineering: Knippers Helbig, Advanced Engineering
“From the endless white fields of nothingness to its rocky shores with drifting icebergs; from the underwater cathedrals of the frozen sea to the dramatic formations of its ice caves, Antarctica offers a catalogue of spatial extremes which inhere their own unique logic and beauty. An architectural observation of these spatial phenomena and studies of the distinct environmental properties of coldness led to the definition of a site-specific material system potentially serving the most basic need of mankind: shelter.
With its extreme weather conditions, Antartica is the continent of non-permanent settlements. The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 allows to visit the continent for research purposes only, which is why until today it has remained vastly untouched by civilization.
Research, i.e. exploration of unknown territories is always a question of how well one is able to adapt to the conditions on the ground and advance further. Creating shelter from an absolute minimum of materials makes use of pragmatic technology while simultaneously appealing to one of the most primary instincts of man: satisfying his innate urge of discovery and settling on unspoiled land. Building in Antarctica with a minimal impact and a strict ‚leave no trace‘ policy clearly raises the question of how one can take advantage of those extreme conditions instead of fighting a worthless battle of creating artificial environments unknown to the white continent.
Easy to carry and fast to construct, the tent has been Antarctica‘s best-known architectural typology employed by the first explorers in the 19th century and used for expeditions until the present day. Consequently, a tent made of structurally performing thin ice provided the best response to the challenge consisting of humans‘ settlements on a continent with an extraordinarily severe climate.
The installation makes uses of the phase transition of water and a thin fabric to create a minimal, structurally performing surface opening up a tent-like architectural volume. Studies on the structural performance of ice were advanced in the past by pioneers in the field such as Swiss engineer Heinz Isler who developed prototypes at his home in the Swiss Alps. However, these beautiful ice shells remained studies and are still waiting to be applied in a purposeful manner: a nomadic journey through Antarctica.
The translucent skin and the cold white of the ice will blend into the surroundings, creating a space strange and yet familiar to the materiality of Antarctica. When the vessel moved on, the structure was broken down and wrapped up, so no traces were left behind.”