SpaceX founder and science-fiction fan Elon Musk is attempting to make the fiction of space travel a scientific reality. ‘In order to safeguard the existence of humanity,’ he explains, ‘we need to become a multi-planetary civilization.’ Musk says he’s laser-focused on ensuring we make a second home elsewhere in space, and has his sights set on Mars. He’s not alone, of course. NASA’s recently-released Moon to Mars Architecture Concept Review is a ‘study of the hardware and operations needed for human missions to the Moon and Mars,’ leading to long-term scientific discovery and human habitation in deep space.
But there’s a long way to go before we get there – and not just the 140 million miles (average distance to Mars). The biggest challenge to Mars habitation and eventual colonization is humanity itself, and our indecision. Many of us question why we should sink so much of our energy – both effort and resources – into such a task, when there are plenty of more pressing matters to address here on Earth?
The peer-reviewed answer is that climate change isn’t the only extinction-level threat we face as a civilization. Recent history has taught us that much, with worldwide pandemics and escalating nuclear tensions representing just some of the worst-case scenarios that could wipe us out entirely. So, as the old maxim almost goes… why put all our eggs on one planet? The most optimistic time schedules put small-scale Mars colonization between 2040 and 2050. That might not seem long to get that far, but lower your gaze back down to Earth and you’ll find plenty of life-supporting examples here already, in contemporary architecture.
Related ArticleThe Red Planet: Design on Our Race to Mars
Getting There: Surviving the Journey to Mars
Space is big… really big. Even though Mars is our nearest planetary neighbor, the changing distance between the two celestial orbits means travel times of around six months – even on the fast service. It will be important, therefore, to transport as much equipment, resources, and people as we can, in as few trips as possible. That means packing light and tight. Fortunately, the over-crowded cities we all seem to want to live in down here on Earth are excellent practice for both designing and living in the kind of micro-habitats we’ll need to endure on interplanetary transport.
This selection of micro-living spaces on ArchDaily – coincidentally all on Earth – point towards how architects, designers, and space travelers can do it. The angular floor plans of apartments like Gambetta and Stendhal, both by miogui and both in Paris, France, show how, by ripping up the rectilinear assumptions of interiors, we can create more functional compact spaces, and how mirrored surfaces can virtually extend space – visually at least.
The lack of gravity in space flight may be hard to get used to at first, but designing in three dimensions rather than two can make micro-spaces easier to use, as evidenced by both the Duplicate-Duplex project in Khet Ratchathewi, Thailand, by TOUCH Architect, and the Tiny Apartment in Paris, by Kitoko Studio. Meanwhile, Studio Mr. Falck proves a lack of interior space is less of an issue when it’s balanced with a great view, as in the Nolla Cabin in Valisaari, Finland. With literally once-in-a-lifetime views of the planets and stars on offer, window seats on the outward trip will be in high demand.
8 Micro-living spaces on Earth
Gambetta Apartment / miogui
Stendhal Apartment / miogui
Duplicate-Duplex / TOUCH Architect
Tiny Apartment In Paris / Kitoko Studio
Nolla Cabin / Studio Mr. Falck
Black Box Apartment / MATA Architects
Hi-pod / BKK Architects +
War Bunker Refurbishment / B-ILD
When We Arrive: Martian First-Time Buyers
Although it’s a long-term goal to fully terraform Mars – meaning to alter the planet’s atmosphere, making it more Earth-like and able to self-sustain human life without the need to make oxygen and water ourselves – we won’t be able to enjoy such luxuries when we first arrive. With temperatures similar to here at home – in the Antarctic – and solar radiation roughly double that on Earth, not to mention month-long dust storms, time spent outdoors won’t be as good for our health as it is down here.
Either by digging out caves in Martian rock, or building strong domes (protected by thick layers of metal or man-made water), however, we can create living environments protected from the extreme weather. Early humans, of course, became well-adept at living in caves. And as this War Bunker Refurbishment in Vuren, The Netherlands, shows, we haven’t completely lost the talent.
Dome of Visions is an experimental series of projects building geodesic glass domes with alternative climates to their surrounding environments. ‘Those who enter inside,’ explains project architect Kristoffer Tejlgaard, ‘are embraced with the warmth of a calm summer day, the smell from countless rosemary bushes, busy bumblebees, and a 100-year-old olive tree snuggling, sheltered from the spring-fresh wind outside.’ Sounds much nicer than the ultraviolet light and low-pressure atmosphere on Mars. Demonstrating the ease with which these domes could be constructed whatever the landscape, meanwhile, DOM(E) is an off-grid prefab dome home, designed to encase comfort in the most uninhabitable areas of Earth.
10 Glass Domes Built on Earth
Dome of Visions / Kristoffer Tejlgaard + Benny Jepsen
Dome of Visions 3.0 / Atelier Kristoffer Tejlgaard
DOM(E) / NRJA
Dinosaur Theme Park Entrance Building / rimpf ARCHITEKTUR
The Droplet Pavilion / Atelier Kristoffer Tejlgaard
Baan Bubble Dome House / Nat Telichenko
Endesa World Fab Condenser / MARGEN-LAB
"Dômes Charlevoix" Eco-Luxurious Accommodations / Bourgeois / Lechasseur architectes
Butterfly Aviary / 3deluxe
Elephant House / Foster + Partners
Settling In: Building For an Expanding Population
If all of this sounds simple so far – and it doesn’t – it’s about to get even harder. Chemically producing all the basic elements and organic products we need to survive from the planet’s minerals and atmosphere, and mining the fuel sources we need to make multiple trips, will require a lot of NASA’s so-called architecture. Meanwhile, homes for the one million people Musk estimates a successfully self-sustaining Mars colony needs to survive without Earth's assistance will take a long time to build. That is if we use humans to build them.
Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), ICON’s Mars Dune Alpha habitat, currently challenging test participants to live for 12 months in its 1,700 sq ft 3D-printed space, was conceived to simulate what life could be like for early Mars settlers, asking them to use VR and perform scientific research and simulated spacewalks. But the 3D-printed environment also illustrates that construction-scale 3D-printing can be an ‘essential part of humanity’s toolkit,’ both ‘on Earth and to go to the Moon and Mars to stay,’ explains ICON CEO, Jason Ballard. By sending up 3D printers ahead of time, we can create pre-cast colony architecture with all the creature comforts of home, ready and waiting to move into.
By mixing potato starch and salt with a simulated substance that replicates the surface of Mars, scientists at the University of Manchester were able to create a material – they’ve named it ‘StarCrete’ – with twice the strength of Earth-based concrete, but with otherwise similar properties to the homegrown version. Itself something we’re already using to build 3D-printed structures like this 3D-printed concrete house in Wuxi, China.
As well as building habitats, one of the first tasks of robotic builders will be to build bridges too, enabling us to cover larger areas of the rocky Martian surface. Zaha Hadid Architects and Block Research Group’s Striatus Bridge shows how 3D-printed concrete blocks can lock together to form a bridge, without the use of mortar.
7 3D-Printed Projects
3D Printing Concrete House / Professor XU Weiguo‘s team from the Tsinghua University School of Architecture
Striatus Bridge / Zaha Hadid Architects + Block Research Group
A Robot-3D Printed Concrete Book Cabin / Professor XU Weiguo's Team
TECLA Technology and Clay 3D Printed House / Mario Cucinella Architects
Prototype TOVA / Posgrado 3D Printing Architecture IAAC
Emerging Objects Design 3D Printed Salt House
Beyond the Geometry Plastic 3D Printed Pavilion / Archi-Union Architects + Fab-Union
The Final Frontier
Much like architecture, space exploration, and off-Earth colonization are ‘about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past,’ says Musk, ‘and I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.’
Find these selected projects for How to Live on Mars in this ArchDaily folder created by the author.