The word extreme by itself refers to the existence of something in a very high degree/going to exaggerated lengths, and thereby, standing out among what is considered normal or conventional. What kind of architecture emerges in an extreme environment? What makes architecture extreme?

Here are 10 examples of extreme architecture around the world listed across multiple kinds of extreme environments : Hot, Cold, High, Wet

1. Olympic ski jump, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany / terrain: loenhart & mayr BDA architects

The design of the ski jump draws its inspiration from the local topography of Mount Gudiberg. It ties in separate functional entities, including delivery and access points, to form a dynamic landscape-building unit. The sculpturality and formal expression of the structure allows for associations with the dynamics of the ski-jumping sport and the factor of risk involved. Due to its minimal snow volume requirement and energy demand, the ski-jump may be considered as being virtually independent of the weather in winter.

2. Tschuggen Bergoase Spa, Arosa, Switzerland / Mario Botta Architetto

The project harmoniously ties the natural landscape to the built hotel structure while accounting for ample flexibility in its functioning. The architect has used the idea of ‘light trees’ that protrude from and provide for focal points and visual relief from the older hotel. These glass and steel structures draw natural light into the interior of the inset building and showcase extended views of the mountain’s treetops

3. Halley VI Antarctic Research Station / Hugh Broughton Architects

The Halley VI by Hugh Broughton Architects serves as a mobile home base for expeditions in the Antarctic region. Halley VI  is a microscopic self-supporting infrastructure-free community and incorporates living areas, social spaces as well as supporting emergency facilities for a crew of up to 30 members .The modules can be transported on their feet, while hydraulic rams allow for them to be raised above the snow as it accumulates.

4. Arctic Visitor Centre and Svalbard global seed vault / Snøhetta

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is marked by a concrete prow emerging from the topography of the site. Post its flooding, it called for an architectural insert that would both showcase the vault as well as preserve the world’s digital heritage. Designed by Snøhetta, the Arc appears on the exterior as a stoic monolithic structure which is built suspended off the ground to prevent heating of permafrost and accumulation of snow. Materials such as burnt wood, dark glass and paired contrasts of colour and texture have been played with to create a unique spatial experience. The exhibition building is accessed by visitors across a glass bridge. The contrasting volumes mimics the entry into a real vault inside the permafrost of Svalbard.

5. Floating Housing at Maasbommel, The Netherlands / Factor Architecten bv

This project is an attempt to test and demonstrate a transformative approach to adaptation in the case of flood resilient architecture. Designed by Factor Architecten bv , the floating houses at Maasbommel are fastened to flexible mooring posts and rest on concrete foundations. The house units are all similar and made using a concrete barge with lightweight timber construction atop. These posts limit the motion caused by the water while allowing the houses to move upwards and float when the level of the river rises.

6. School buildings, Gando and Dano, Burkina Faso / Diébédo Francis Kéré

Built using local material and labour, the schools at Gando and Dano are climatically responsive to the extreme hot climate and lack of services in the region by making it a cooler and conducive environment for learning and growing together. The mechanism of the roof of the school buildings and their facades are specifically designed to include ventilating shutters while entirely eliminating the need for artificial support to control the temperature. The tin sheet overhang is separated from the walls of the classrooms by a dry-stacked perforated clay block ceiling. This allows for maximum ventilation, pulling cool air in from the interior windows and releasing hot air outside

7. Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada / Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects + Urbanistes

The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre expresses the potential of architecture to convey the past and future of aboriginal culture. The building is partially submerged and hosts interior and exterior exhibits. A key feature is the massive rammed earth wall that holds back the desert landscape that flows over the building’s green roof. The height of this wall is set to create layered views of the desert rising up in the middle ground and receding to the adjacent riparian landscape. The spatial sequence is further defined by a channel of water from the entrance plaza. The guided trail is further punctuated by small pavilions and reconstructed exhibits

8. Central market, Koudougou, Burkina Faso / Laurent Séchaud

The central market addresses and responds to both geographical and socio-economical aspects of its context by successfully bringing together and engaging the community in the design and execution process. The market uses traditional local material  in its construction and Nubian vaults, organized along a grid, creating spatial rhythm and allowing for regulated circulation despite its high density function. It also opens up views of the market and gives every building the benefit of shade.

9. Trollstigen Tourist Route, Norway

The Trollstigen Plateau contains a series of programs responding not only to its visitors but also pays tribute to its surroundings through its architectural construct and landscape. The project is characterized by its clear transitions in materials and guided movement that describe the uniqueness and magnanimous scale of the site.

10. Antarctic Pavilion Concept by Studio Hani Rashid

The conceptualization by Studio Hani Rashid questions the extents of possible spaces for human habitation, envisions a self-contained system that does not succumb to the ill effects of climate change. While this does not suggest that we take over the Antarctic region, projects such as this or the Mars Habitat by Foster + Partners definitely push the boundaries in envisaging new and viable architecture that is sustainable, renewable, and presents itself as zero-impact solutions.


Srishti Currently in her final year of architecture school, Srishti loves to question and curate her own set of visual responses to everything she sees around in the built environment. She aspires to be able to create minimal design interventions that are a result of extensive user-based research in the public realm.