Space Architecture is the theory and practice of designing and building inhabited environments in outer space. It envelops the architectural design of living and working environments of space-related facilities, biosphere, and vehicles. Like architecture on Earth, space architecture aims to go beyond the usual norms of design and system applications and better understand the issues that affect space design pedagogy. 

The need for architects significantly grew when space mission duration extended and wanted to address the requirements of astronauts and technicians beyond minimum survival needs.

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An illustration of extraterrestrial school run_©Robert Murray

Much of the space architecture work involves designing concepts for space stations, Lunar and Martian space exploration, and orbital vehicles. This article highlights a few major project proposals that advocate the growing facade of human life in outer space:

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An impression of the greenhouse on Mars_©Robert Murray

1. Mars Colonization by ZA Architects

ZA Architects came forward with the proposal of human colonization on the red planet in 2013 by creating an underground dwelling dug out from the planet’s surface using advanced robots. This space architecture proposal was to be carved from the location where bedrocks have formed distinct hexagonal columns and can be removed to form cathedral-like interior spaces. 

The robots will weave web-like structures from basalt fibers that will serve as the walking ground for the cave. An artificial underground glacier will be created by it to supply oxygen and water to the inhabitants.

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Mars Colonization_©ZA Architects
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Mars Colonization_©ZA Architects
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Mars Colonization_©ZA Architects

2. Mars Habitat by Foster and Partners

The proposal for this space architecture project consists of a settlement built by pre-programmed and semi-autonomous robots. The habitat is set to be constructed with minimum human intervention. At first, the robots will dig a pit up to 1.5m in-depth, and then an inflatable module will sit within this pit to act as the core of the settlement. 

These robust living quarters would be 3D printed using native Martian materials and house up to 4 inhabitants per house. This project was among the 20 finalists in NASA’s design competition.

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Mars Habitat_©Foster and Partner
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Mars Habitat_©Foster and Partner

3. Mars Ice House by Clouds AO and SEArch+ 

One of the main problems faced in space architecture is to design a habitable environment for humans on Mars due to radiation. Clouds AO and SEArch+ came forward with a proposal of tapping into the water contingency reservoir of Mars to create an ice dwelling that will have the ability to filter and deflect the sun’s rays. This will be 3D printed, taking the support of native Martian materials. 

The project won NASA’s ‘3D Printed Habitat Challenge’ as it stood out from the concepts to built structures in the underground pits.  

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Mars Ice House_©Clouds AO
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Mars Ice House_©Clouds AO
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Section of Mars Ice House_©Clouds AO

4. Mars Habitat by LavaHive 

LavaHive motioned the idea of a 3D printed dwelling using a cutting-edge manufacturing process called ‘lava-casting.’ The space architecture project takes a hybrid approach where the structural elements of the central habitat would arrive from the Earth, and the additive manufacturing process gets deployed on-site. 

Using the locally collected construction materials such as Martian Regolith soil and sand and discarded space vessel materials, the habitat can be built flexibly and protect surface assets. It is a modular design for an initial habitation mission and can be modified according to mission requirements.

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Mars Habitat_©LavaHive
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Mars Habitat Module_©Rene Waclavicek
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Linear layout of Mars Habitat_©Rene Waclavicek

5. Marsha by AI Spacefactory 

AI Spacefactory proposed the concept of a beacon structure that is to be 3D printed using basalt from Mars surface and vegetable-based bioplastic to create a strong building material. Due to the Martian conditions, the space architecture needs to be optimized to handle the internal atmospheric pressure and thermal stresses. 

Marsha’s vertically oriented egg shape structure minimizes the footprint and mechanical stresses at the base. At the same time, it reduces the risk in construction and increases the speed and accuracy.

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Marsha_©AI Spacefactory
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Beacon structure of Marsha_©AI Spacefactory
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Floor layouts of Marsha_©AI Spacefactory

6. Mars Case by OPEN Architecture and Xiaomi 

Mars Case is a minimalist housing approach designed for the human inhabitants on Mars. Integrating OPEN Architecture‘s design and technological brilliance with Xiaomi’s electronic fixtures helped form a single well-functioning unit. The by-products from electronic gadgets such as dissipated heat are recycled by the house’s self-contained ecosystem that minimizes the consumption of resources. 

The Mars Case unit’s ecosystem is integrated to have better air circulation within the space architecture. Each of these 2.4m x 2.4m x 2m modules, nicknamed ‘living bubble,’ can be inflated and collapsed into a suitcase form, making transportation easier.

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Mars Case_©Xiaomi
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Mars Case Module_©OPEN Architecture
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Mars Case Module_©OPEN Architecture

7. Nuwa by ABIBOO Studio 

The Nuwa project is extensive research work embarked by the SONet for the Mars Society. The City of Nuwa rests on the slope of Martian cliffs, where the steep terrain provides an opportunity for the vertical structures to be inserted into the rock. This intuitive space architecture offers protection from radiation and meteorites while having access to indirect sunlight. 

The Nuwa design focuses on self-sustainability to its core. After initial support in supply from Earth, Nuwa will maintain itself using the local resources from Martian soil.

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Nuwa Module_©Abiboo Studio
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Nuwa City_©Abiboo Studio

8. Lunar Habitation by Foster and Partners 

The combined duo of Foster and Partners with the European Space Agency has brought a concept of Lunar habitation to the limelight. This space architecture unit can house four people and is built in the Moon’s south pole, where perpetual sunlight is found. 

The structure’s shell comprises a hollow closed cellular network whose use of binding ink is kept to a minimum to ensure maximum strength. The material used on the dome’s surface offers protection from meteorites, gamma radiation, and temperature fluctuations.

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Lunar Habitation_©Foster + Partners
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Lunar Habitation_©Foster + Partners
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Lunar Habitation_©Foster + Partners

9. Moon Village by SOM  

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is working towards their goal of ‘Life Beyond Earth’ through their shared vision of Moon Village. Currently, the team focuses on developing the settlement’s habitat module. SOM’s design drives towards self-sufficient settlements interconnected to each other, and each module adapted to outer space’s extreme condition. Each module consists of a rigid frame over which an inflatable structural shell is fixed. 

This project assures the importance of space architecture and exploration while highlighting its potential knowledge that will help address the issues that we face on Earth.

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Moon Village_©SOM
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Moon Village_©SOM
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A habitation module of Moon Village_©SOM
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Vertical habitat module of Moon Village_©SOM

10. Lunar Lantern by SEArch+ and BIG 

SEArch+ and BIG, along with ICON, an advanced construction technology developer, are working with NASA to develop a space-based construction system to support future space exploration on the Moon. And the Lunar Lantern aims to provide the best habitable environment for the inhabitants for its extended mission on the Moon’s surface. 

Namely for NASA’s Artemis Program in October 2024, where the astronauts will go to the surface of the Moon since the Apollo time. Each of these capsules will be constructed on Moon using automated 3D printers using in-situ resources to minimize the dependency on Earth.

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Lunar Lattern_©ICON
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Close up view of Lunar Lattern_©ICON
Lunar Lattern_©ICON

References

Anon, (n.d.). SpaceArchitect.org | SpaceArchitect.org. [online] Available at: http://spacearchitect.org/.

Mars Colonisation by ZA Architects. (2013). Dezeen. [online] 4 Sep. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2013/09/04/mars-colonisation-by-za-architects/.

www.fosterandpartners.com, F. + P. / (n.d.). Mars Habitat | Foster + Partners. [online] www.fosterandpartners.com. Available at: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/mars-habitat/.

cloudsao.com. (n.d.). MARS ICE HOUSE — Clouds Architecture Office. [online] Available at: https://cloudsao.com/MARS-ICE-HOUSE [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

Imhof, B. (n.d.). An ISRU-based architecture for Human Habitats on Mars; the “Lava Hive” concept. www.academia.edu. [online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/27045836/An_ISRU_based_architecture_for_Human_Habitats_on_Mars_the_Lava_Hive_concept [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].‌

www.aispacefactory.com. (n.d.). MARSHA by AI SpaceFactory. [online] Available at: https://www.aispacefactory.com/marsha.

theinspirationgrid.com. (n.d.). Open Architecture x Xiaomi Mars Case House | Inspiration Grid. [online] Available at: https://theinspirationgrid.com/open-architecture-x-xiaomi-mars-case-house/ [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

ArchDaily. (2013). Foster + Partners To 3D Print Structures on the Moon. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/326429/foster-partners-to-3d-print-structures-on-the-moon [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

ArchDaily. (2020). SOM Collaborates with the European Space Agency to Research Habitation on the Moon. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/932637/som-collaborates-with-the-european-space-agency-to-research-habitation-on-the-moon [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

ArchDaily. (2021). SOM Presents Vision of Lunar Settlements at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/964340/som-presents-vision-of-lunar-settlements-at-the-2021-venice-architecture-biennale?ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_all [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

Space Exploration Architecture. (n.d.). Lunar Lantern. [online] Available at: http://www.spacexarch.com/lunar-lantern [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

phys.org. (n.d.). The Lunar Lantern could be a beacon for humanity on the moon. [online] Available at: https://phys.org/news/2021-06-lunar-lantern-beacon-humanity-moon.html [Accessed 09 Sep. 2021].

Author

Milan Denny is an architecture student who has just begun to explore his way into architectural journalism. He is genuinely passionate about architecture and technology and constantly seeks new experiences to widen his knowledge to blend them. Tea is the shortcut key to his heaven.

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