We as a community of designers have set no limits for ourselves. From exploring and generating new materials to some unimaginable construction methods have kept us motivated to keep pushing our boundaries. Architecture is a response to a context and we being ‘Earthians’ have been getting involved in practices related to buildings that are local to earth, as they are more sustainable. While discussing the scope of life on other planets and satellites, there are many discussions about how can we imagine the built habitat for humans in an alien space with unfamiliar conditions and materials? What could be then a response to a different nature altogether?

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Foster + Partners headed by Norman Foster has been partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) to investigate the possibility of building on the moon and mars. With the various possibilities that 3D printing now offers, they have been working on developing techniques that can 3D print the built from the materials from the surface of the moon without having to transport tons of heavy materials from the earth.  

Lunar habitation is a project for a four-person home on the moon 3D printed using regolith (moon soil). Unlike how the atmosphere on earth protects us from various meteors, temperature fluctuations, and gamma radiations, the moon has no such layer and hence the structure has to be proof of all these extreme conditions. This is a very unique design process driven by the materials procured from the moon. The site is located at the Shackleton crater in the southern pole of the moon where there is near perpetual sunlight. 

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The Lunar Habitation By Norman Foster- 3D printing on the moon - Sheet1
Rendering ©Foster + Partners

The design is a load-bearing ‘catenary’ dome structure that provides reliable protection to the dwellers against micro-meteoroids, radiations, and temperature imbalances.  

The base of the structure will unfold itself from a module transported to the moon which will set up the dome-like base for the 3D printers to build over. The cylinder at the end of the tubular module will act as the support structure for constructing the form. D shaped printers will use regolith, which is the soil procured from the moon’s surface. They are robots that operate to create a formation inspired by geometry similar to a bird’s bone. This protective shell will protect the inside by creating a pressurized living zone against all the extreme conditions on the moon. 

The Lunar Habitation By Norman Foster- 3D printing on the moon - Sheet2
1.5-tonne building block produced as a demonstration article ©www.esa.int

To test out the concept of 3D printing a hollow cellular geometry, a test block was produced weighing 1.5 tonnes which demonstrated the technique. Stimulated lunar material mixed with magnesium oxide was used as the paper to be 3D printed by machines supplied by the UK based company called ‘Monolite’. A binding salt helps in converting the structural ink mixed into solid material.

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The Lunar Habitation By Norman Foster- 3D printing on the moon - Sheet3
3D-printed lunar base design article ©Foster and Partners & European Space Agency

A house for 4 with living, sleeping, and eating spaces is proposed as the design structure. This project tremendously increases the scope of being able to exist in a protected environment outside the protective layer of the earth. Technological advancements and expected progress in research in the coming years lay down hope of a more intricate and resolved possibility of engaging with the built habitat using newer materials and extreme conditions. 

Foster + Partners have been actively involved with aspects of lunar habitation which need further studies such as controlling lunar dust and thermal factors. However, a huge takeaway for the community for experiments like these is the understanding of how staying extremely contextual and local is necessary while building anywhere in the universe and hence the realization of how such exercises also help us acknowledge the fact that sticking closer to the forms of nature has proven sustainable irrespective of unrealistic conditions.

When it comes to discussions of activities in space, the role of an architect is very crucial in the primary act of building and understanding the spaces which are allowed through the forms supported by the environment. 

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Author

Nandni is a recent graduate of architecture who is always lost in her thoughts about the influence of spaces in our everyday lives and finds a platform to express her curiosities through her scribbles and words. One story at a time!

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Rethinking The Future Awards 2022