Designing perfect buildings is always a challenge, requiring a masterful blend of aesthetic sensibility and technical optimization. But designing perfect buildings for an off-world colony on Mars? That’s a truly monumental task.
For working scientists and architects, the Martian design task is a major project, especially given the fact that, while we know a great deal about the atmosphere and conditions on the planet’s surface, there’s still much more that remains unknown. But for new architects still developing their craft, Mars represents the ideal challenge.
University of Calgary students pursuing their Masters in architecture are now entering the fray, designing habitats and other spaces for Martian explorers as part of a course called Mars Studio. And while these efforts might sound fanciful, they are answering design quandaries that demand resolution. NASA is fully committed to reaching Mars with people who will be staying there by 2033, and SpaceX aims to get there with colonists much sooner.
Mars Studio has thus far produced several notable designs, including one for a regional mining hub and a mobile resource extractor slowly crawling the planet’s surface:
“I was interested in looking at corporate land ownership and how workers’ colonies might begin to occur around mineral and water extraction,” student John Ferguson told The Globe and Mail. “I looked at oil sands and the way those communities grow. My architecture ended up being a mobile colony designed for resource extraction: like a mobile colony which strip mines its way across the landscape.”
Students also worked on buildings that would allow a Mars explorer to retain a feeling of connection to life back on Earth:
“From Mars, planet Earth would be just a star in the sky and conversations with Earth would come with at least a three minute delay,” course instructor Jessie Andjelic told The Globe and Mail. “So, for those first settlements there would definitely be a desire to create familiarity. We spent a lot of time looking at how to adapt typologies from earth to create a sense of connection and belonging for that first generation of settlers.”
Mars Studio isn’t the only Calgary connection for the Red Planet. Calgary space-artist Bryan Versteeg has produced some of the most famous design concepts for Mars One, such as this:
In 2015, The Mars Ice House won NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge for its innovative approach to the many difficulties presented by life on Mars:
The ice would act as a radiation shield while allowing light inside, and a coating would prevent the ice from sublimating.
Hopefully, Mars Studio will produce other potentially usable design ideas as it challenges new architects who are interested in the mission. Who knows — students’ ideas may one day be used house the first Martian settlers.