Ingels likens colonizing Mars to early expeditions to the polar regions of Earth. Some of the most richly funded European explorers who tried to bring their way of life with them by using horses and ships floundered in the extreme cold. But the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who was the first to reach the South Pole and the first to travel through the Northwest Passage, instead adapted successfully to the environment by studying the ways of the local people, which led him to use dog sleds and kayaks.
When completed, the Mars Science City will be the only complex of this size and scale that is built to the specifications of the Martian environment.
The buildings Ingels is designing in the U.A.E. are meant to act as prototypes for the country’s actual Mars colony. So BIG’s design process had to begin with Mars. It’s an incredibly difficult environment to design for: The only water is frozen, and the atmosphere is almost entirely carbon dioxide, making it impossible for humans to breathe outside of pressurized environments. In fact, there’s almost no pressure at all, and the planet’s gravity is less than half of Earth’s. With so little atmosphere, solar radiation presents a real danger for humans. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many architectural solutions to these problems found on Earth.
“If you’re living in the north of Sweden or in New Mexico, you end up trying to live in the same way even though it’s completely different landscapes and completely different climates,” Ingels says. “When you go to vernacular settlements across the world, the charm and character and soul that comes from using local available ingredients, it’s not only what makes these environments more endearing and characteristic but also more sustainable.”
[Image: courtesy BIG]
The domes of Mars Science City could house about 1,000 people if they were built on Mars. But ultimately, the U.A.E. wants to build a whole city for 600,000. Ingels’s architectural framework is designed to be scalable, both on Earth and beyond: While interlocking domes form villages, donut-shaped toruses made of the same inflatable membrane could one day form cities.