Princess Elisabeth Antarctica – Rethinking Space in a Vast Environment
April 10, 2012
Building a living and working space for 25 – 40 Antarctic researchers in one of the most inhospitable terrains on Earth is a challenge. Throw in a self-sustaining, “zero emission” station in sub-zero temperatures and mobile research units with sleeping accommodations run entirely on renewable energy fit for polar exploration, and the task begins to resemble the setting in a futuristic sci-fi thriller. But this ambitious project is not the fictional dream of tree-hugging scientists.
Created by the International Polar Foundation, the Belgian-operated Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station sits at the foot of the Sør Rondane mountain range, right on the edge of a polar plateau. Where space seems almost ironically abundant, the research station stands as a beacon of spatial innovation, and efficiency.
A one stop shop that accommodates not only the day-to-day needs of up to 40 resident scientists, the station also functions as a highly sophisticated polar research lab, comparable to any other state-of-the-art modern research facility.
Since every square foot of the Princess Elisabeth has a mandate to serve multiple functions, each piece of furniture and every architectural feature was carefully selected – based on materials, size, durability, eco-impact and functionality. The developers searched through the infinite number of options available to source the best products and innovative solutions on Earth and ensure maximum efficiency. They selected products and tools that would maintain the zero-emissions standard and enable the researchers to do their work in a functional, safe, and comfortable environment, protected from the harsh outside environment.
The sleeping quarters of the Princess Elisabeth are a perfect example of efficiency made possible by multipurpose space. Features like the multi-functionality of the enjoyably named Clei “Lollipop” beds sold by Resource Furniture used in the sleeping units, along with minimum planned obsolescence are shared attributes of the products chosen by the Princess Elisabeth Station ’s designers in order to maximize the usage of space while achieving high standards for functionality, safety and minimum environmental impact despite the challenges presented by extreme conditions and transportation logistics. Proving that if it can be done in the most formidable of climates, the practice could be easily adapted to anywhere using similar resources.
Residents of the station had to adapt their behavior and re-think their relationship with energy and the area around them, always keeping efficiency in mind. The idea that space can be used for multiple purposes is not revolutionary, but the best space saving and efficiency tools can often be harder – but not impossible – to find,
As the world’s population increases and we become more conscious of our usage of resources and the necessity of shared spaces, the need for this type of efficiency increases as well. Three years into the full activity of the station, it can confidently be said that the Princess Elisabeth is the model for adaptable construction and smart design. A model that is as easily applied to an expansive lab facility as it is to life in more temperate climates.
Are the days of space being the ultimate measure of comfort numbered?
The Princess Elisabeth station is a first in many respects. The advanced design methodology, used in functional, yet beautiful and accommodating ways, demonstrate innovative aspects that offer new possibilities for designing spaces that are both effective and attractive.
The International Polar Foundation will use the station for education and outreach purposes, to raise awareness about the importance of polar research as well as to serve as a prime example of the most efficient use of energy and space, in the hopes that these ideas will take hold worldwide.