The 21st century has been coming up with a new surprise every passing day. On every incrementing step towards a better world, we find ourselves pulled back by a plethora of challenges like climate change, deadly diseases, and an increase in population leading to increased hunger, poverty, crime, terrorism, and density. The world is so packed with creatures that it has fallen short of resources to fulfill the basic needs. While this problem of density forces architects and designers to find alternative solutions to cities and living conditions, a broader group of professionals is busy exploring the possibilities of life on other planets.
The most compatible planet for this purpose is Mars. It has a thin atmosphere and the atmospheric pressure is higher. The red planet is not too close to the Sun, and also has similar temperatures as Earth, ranging from around 70 degrees Fahrenheit to about -100 degrees Fahrenheit, so it can be cold at night. Also, the weather there is very dry. Thus, designing would mostly rely on artificial environments. All the living conditions and possibilities need to be tested.
Experimenting with the Prototypes
Many experiments are planned, where astronauts will have to go to Mars, set up power, cultivate food, make a habitat, and try living there. But this testing comes up with other issues. The astronauts need to reach there as fast as possible to be efficient. Everything that needs to be set-up has to be taken from the Earth which would come with a high launching price. Also, the planet has a weaker gravity, making it vulnerable to radiation from cosmic rays and solar winds, exposing everyone to diseases like cancer. All this increases the risk of even trying to live on the planet. But some solutions like 3-D printing of structures are in consideration, and the technology is helping us with the other problems.
Role of Architects and Challenges Faced
On earth, the building industry has mastered the art of creating a livable built environment. Architects have experience of designing on almost every kind of terrain- land, water, trees, etc. But even designing a whole settlement on a new planet would come with many more challenges, let alone the idea of testing it. The architects would have to look into many aspects of a living system with a new, fresh perspective.
One of the problems will be the shortage of water, as Mars has only 5 million cubic meters of water, as compared to 15 billion on Earth. Thus, efficient use and agricultural reforms would be mandatory. Construction should not use much water. Mars doesn’t have fossil fuels, so renewable energy sources like solar, wind and nuclear energy would be used. Keeping in mind the high vulnerability to radiation on Mars, structures would have to be plastic or metal-based, expandable structures, rocky structures, or underground facilities. The use of in-situ materials should be maximized, and there should be no space for waste, as it won’t be affordable otherwise. Also, the designs should be human-centric. They should be comfortable, with good landscape and spacious interiors.
On Earth, architects can design anything and then an engineer would build it, but here, architects need to follow engineers, thus suppressing creative flexibility. The conditions there are not the same, thus it’s important to consider the climate of Mars. Prefabricated units would be fine, but there should be a solution to what if the habitat needs to be changed to adapt to the climate on the planet. Thus, it’s important to choose what to launch, as it would be very expensive. Choosing the local material always helps (vernacular concept), and basalt can easily be extracted from Martian rocks and its combination with biopolymers are helpful. Rather than aesthetics, more emphasis will have to be paid on life-support systems like power supply, waste management, water availability, transport system, and storage.
Examples of Efforts
Many prototypes are being made and the participation by the industry is encouraging. The ‘Mars Science-City’ by Bjarke Ingels is created to work in extreme conditions like a desert, the kind of weather Mars would have. ‘Mars Colonization’ by ZA architects, ‘Avatar X lab’ by the Cloud architecture, Mars-One project backed by NASA, and the ‘Four-person lunar-based’ model by Foster+Partners are other great examples of some prototypes being tested for Mars. Many professionals are doing scholarly research on this extra-terrestrial architectural type. Organizations like ‘Spacecraft’, ‘AI space factory’, and ‘Space Architect’ are working for the same. Malaysian designers, Warith Zaki and Aamir Amzar have proposed the use of bamboo, and yet other companies like IKEA have been creating space-themed furniture and space travel bags.
The role of architects is to assess the challenges, analyze the inferences, and come up with a creative solution to making the built-environments Earth-like on Mars. There are very few ways to urge people to accept Mars as a new home. To attract people there, we need to assure them of an affordable and safe built-environment, which is something an architect can do. The near future will move further into this research and will demand more professionals to solve one of the greatest design problems.