Space has long captured our imaginations. Looking to the ocean above us, writers, scientists and designers alike have continuously dreamed up new visions for a future on distant planets. Mars is at the center of this discourse, the most habitable planet in our solar system after Earth. Proposals for the red planet explore how we can create new realms of humanity in outer space.
As former Managing Editor Katherine Allen stated, our dreams for life in space are crafted in fiction, with visions ranging from the romantic to the dystopian. In the last five years, ArchDaily has covered a range of stories exploring architecture and design on Mars. From 3D printed ice houses to biodegradable fungus towers and simulated habitats, these proposals may seem far-fetched, but SpaceX announced plans to begin Mars colonization, and last month, successfully performed an in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, one of the final milestones before a crewed test flight.
In his recent piece, Living in space is the answer, but what was the question?, designer and educator Fred Scharmen looked at how architects and designers may be the best positioned to address questions of living in space. According to him, three elements ground the new rise of proposals for architecture in space: lower launch costs, a supply chain of matter and energy, and a legal framework for resources. "All we need now are a new generation of Martian architects to design buildings made of Martian concrete that will be suitable structures for humans to live and work in," concluded the MIT Technology Review in their report on a new type of concrete designed for use on Mars.
At the same time, designing for life on Mars presents a host of new design problems. The following articles explore how architecture and design are tied to our dreams of Mars, and what these projects might mean in the not-so-distant future.
Up until now, space architecture has been mainly focused on engineering, centered on projects like orbital space stations or Martian exploration convoys, commissioned by world space agencies such as ESA (Europe) or NASA (USA). But in recent years, an increasingly broader spectrum of professionals have joined the challenge of designing extraterrestrial built environments, the new space race of the 21st century.
Developed by scientists led by Lin Wan at Northwestern University, this "Martian concrete" is just one of many scientific developments that will be required for the increasingly popular goal of sending humans to, and eventually colonizing, the Red Planet (apparently the un-colonized Moon is already old hat - just ask Matt Damon).
Mars has been notable for capturing humans' interest, intriguing business moguls such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to go on a "billionaire space race" and settle on the planet. Since the world is stirring towards being an interplanetary society, two exhibitions; Moving to Mars and Designs for Different Futures, tackle the ethics, anxieties, and culture of humanity of life on Earth and beyond.
Bjarke Ingels Group has been working on the Mars Science City project after the United Arab Emirates announced the initiative in 2017. The research city aims to serve as a “viable and realistic model” for the simulation of human occupation of the martian landscape. The project is designed with a team of Emirati scientists, engineers and designers from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.
Architecture and technology company AI SpaceFactory has completed the autonomous construction of MARSHA, a proposal for a Martian surface habitat for NASA. The 3D printed shelter is one of five finalists in an international competition to design and build a habitat for a crew of four astronauts on a mission to Mars.
MARS Case is a minimal housing prototype designed by OPEN Architecture in collaboration with Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi. The proposal is part of an annual cross-industry innovation and research platform known as House Vision, which uses the medium of the “house” to explore and question the direction of our living habits and urban environments in the future.