Clouds AO and SEArch Win NASA's Mars Habitat Competition with 3D-Printed Ice House

Clouds AO and SEArch Win NASA's Mars Habitat Competition with 3D-Printed Ice House

NASA, who recently confirmed evidence of flowing water on Mars, has deemed SEArch (Space Exploration Architecture) and Clouds AO (Clouds Architecture Office) winners of the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge for Mars. Sponsored by NASA and America Makes, the teams were asked to use indigenous materials and 3D printing techniques to build a habitat for four astronauts on Mars. SEArch and Clouds AO's first prize proposal, ICE HOUSE was awarded $25,000, ahead of 30 other shortlisted practices.

"Recognizing that water is the building block to life, the team used a ‘follow the water’ approach to conceptualize, site and construct their design," said SEArch and Clouds AO. "[Our] proposal stood out as one of the few entries not to bury the habitat beneath regolith, instead mining the anticipated abundance of subsurface ice in the northern regions to create a thin vertical ice shell capable of protecting the interior habitat from radiation while celebrating life above ground."

ICE HOUSE. Image © Clouds AO and SEArch

From the winning team: The architecture of ICE HOUSE celebrates the presence of a human habitat as a beacon of light on the Martian surface. The design emerged from an imperative to bring light to the interior and to create visual connections to the landscape beyond, allowing the mind as well as the body to thrive. While scientists have experimented with what could potentially be synthetic replacements for sunlight, artificial substitutes do not hold nearly the same circadian variance or ability to balance a crew’s mental and physical health as does experiencing the sun’s actual and unmediated daily cycles. The water ice counteracts the traditional danger of living above ground by serving as a radiation barrier, offsetting fears of solar exposure that have, until now, projected Martian architecture into a dark underworld—buried beneath a regolithic surface that is believed to contain perchlorates, gypsum and other substances hazardous to human life.

Water as a Radiation Shield

By taking advantage of water-ice’s ability to filter the sun’s rays and protect against radiation, ICE HOUSE prioritizes a life above ground and celebrates the human presence on the planetary surface. The semi-translucent exterior shell reintroduces the terrestrial concept of interior-to-exterior gradients, challenging common assumptions that extraterrestrial habitats require visually impenetrable barriers which divorce the interior from the surrounding terrain. The heart of the structure, the living quarters, is strictly interior, benefiting from the protection of redundant pressure envelopes. As one moves outward towards the radiation-barrier ice perimeter, there is a transition towards integrated plant life and vistas onto the Martian landscape, integrating the outdoors with the spatial environment.

ICE HOUSE. Image © Clouds AO and SEArch

A Vertical Habitat

The vertically oriented lander, which contains the mechanical services of the habitat, inherits the likely orientation of the crew’s (MTV) Transit Habitat to ease the crew’s adjustment to life on the Martian surface. The habitat’s stacked levels organize core programs by activity within the lander, introducing a spectrum of private to communal interior spaces. Interior efficiency creates sizable storage pockets at the base of the lander to house both the bots as well as the four Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS). Once the lander has deployed the inflatable ETFE membrane, pre-fabricated bridges unfold from within the lander, creating ‘pockets’ for inserted program. A spiral stair at the core of the lander provides circulation to the upper levels of the habitat, while simultaneously offering the crew a means for exercise when ascending levels.

ICE HOUSE. Image © Clouds AO and SEArch

Intermediate Zone

Thermally separated from the habitat interior, the occupiable “front yard” pocket just inside the outer shell provides a truly unique protected neutral zone that is not entirely interior or exterior; it enables the astronauts to experience the “outside” without ever donning an EVA suit. This interstitial zone space demonstrates a new, liberating and revolutionary definition of living extra-terrestrially—one that celebrates the novelty and wonder of living on Mars. Additional light qualities, including alternating color therapies, are achieved via robotic printing of the shell’s surface to create a “Fresnel lens” effect, refracting and concentrating the light within the interior surface of the domed structure.

The lander’s yard exists where a secondary, semi-independent shell of ice peels away from the exterior shell. The protective redundancy of the double skin creates two layers of space between the ETFE membrane and the lander, that while sharing a common pressure boundary, also creates a distinct temperature and air make-up zone. This creates a hereto-unimagined plant filled green courtyards experience on Mars. 

Oxygen Gardens

Between the lander core and the ICE HOUSE interior, verdant plant life surrounds the inhabitants. The vertically growing hydroponic gardens serve as the recreational ‘parks’ within the habitat, disrupting the alien monotony of Mars’ landscape while also supplementing the crew’s food and oxygen. The gardens enable the growth of experimental consumable produce, and their placement between programmatic zones offers the crew contact with natural plant life and colors throughout their daily scheduled activities. The resulting variegated “dappled” light effects benefit the crew’s psychological and mental well-being and the ‘yard’ provides space in which to vent any excess oxygen produced

ICE HOUSE. Image © Clouds AO and SEArch

Spaces "Hollowed-Out" of Ice

The interior volume of ice is printed as a series of conceptually excavated or “hollowed-out” programmatic spaces to form the walls and divisions of the habitat volume. The curvaceous rooms create an illusion of cycloramic space, enhancing perceptions of boundlessness, making a small space seem quite large.

ETFE Windows

Where the ice shell thins, large ETFE inflatable windows filled with radiation shielding gas further expand the perceived volume and frame views into the landscape. Together, these features enable both collective and private opportunities to contemplate the vista of the extraordinary Martian terrain. 

Second place and the People's Choice Award was awarded to Team GAMMA. LavaHive took third.

Team Gamma's second place proposal. Image Courtesy of NASA
Team LavaHive's third place proposal. Image Courtesy of NASA

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About this author
Cite: Karissa Rosenfield. "Clouds AO and SEArch Win NASA's Mars Habitat Competition with 3D-Printed Ice House" 02 Oct 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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