In the winter of 2017, the University of Calgary hosted a Senior Research Studio in Architecture, focusing on designing innovative habitats and settlements for human life on Mars. This research design studio aimed to examine the Mars project critically and speculate on the identity of human civilization on a second planet.
The objective of this studio was to develop an understanding of the challenges and opportunities of designing habitats on Mars, create a conceptual and aesthetic identity for human settlements on Mars at multiple scales, and refine abstract, theoretical, critical, and representational skills in architecture.
This project aimed to explore the potential for increased systemic resiliency, a new beginning for humanity, and the intersection of space and interplanetary innovation and technology as they apply to architecture.
- To analyze and address the unique challenges and opportunities in designing habitats and settlements for human life on Mars.
- To conceptualize and create aesthetically appealing and functional designs for human settlements on Mars that are adaptable to various scales.
- To understand the interplay between space and interplanetary innovation and technology with architecture and explore their potential applications in designing for extraterrestrial environments.
- To refine critical thinking, conceptualization, and representation skills in the field of architecture through research and design exercises related to designing for life on Mars.
The challenge in this project is to design habitats and settlements for humans on a planet vastly different from Earth in terms of its environment and atmospheric conditions. Mars has a hostile environment that presents numerous challenges, such as extreme temperatures, low atmospheric pressure, high levels of radiation, and a lack of breathable air and water. Designing habitats that can withstand these challenges while providing a comfortable and safe living environment for humans is a complex task that requires a deep understanding of the environment and the technology and materials available for construction.
In addition to the technical challenges, there is also the challenge of creating a conceptual and aesthetic identity for human settlements on Mars. With no existing human settlements on the planet, designers and architects can imagine and create something entirely new while also considering the social and cultural factors that will shape the identity of these settlements.
Overall, the challenge in this project was to merge the technical and practical aspects of designing habitable structures on a hostile planet with the creative and imaginative elements of creating a new human civilization.
Some examples of innovative solutions have been proposed or explored by architects, engineers, and scientists working on designing habitats on Mars.
One innovative solution is the use of sustainable and resource-efficient building techniques. For example, constructing proposed Mars habitats and building structures with “In-situ resource utilization” involves using local materials such as regolith (the layer of loose soil and rock covering the planet). This approach could reduce the cost and complexity of transporting materials from Earth to Mars and minimize the environmental impact of human settlement on the planet.
Another innovative solution is the development of closed-loop life support systems. Since Mars has no breathable atmosphere and is exposed to high radiation levels, habitats must be autonomous and self-sufficient. Closed-loop life support systems could enable humans to recycle waste products such as carbon dioxide, urine, and wastewater into oxygen, water, and nutrients for food production.
Social and psychological factors are also important considerations for long-term human habitation on Mars. Astronauts on the International Space Station have reported feeling isolated and stressed due to the cramped living conditions and the lack of privacy and personal space. Architects designing Mars habitats must consider the inhabitants’ social and psychological needs, such as providing exercise, relaxation, and private spaces.
Finally, incorporating advanced technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and artificial intelligence could enable more efficient and flexible construction and maintenance of habitats on Mars. For example, robots could perform excavation and site preparation tasks, while 3D printing could help the rapid construction of structures using local materials. Artificial intelligence could also optimize the use of resources and energy within the habitat and monitor the inhabitants’ health and well-being.
The above project focused on the design of human settlements on Mars. While its primary goal was not to address issues on Earth, it still has several potential benefits and reflections for our planet, including:
- Innovation: The project encourages using innovative design solutions and advanced technologies that could be adapted for use on Earth, leading to more sustainable and efficient buildings, infrastructure, and systems.
- Sustainability: The emphasis on sustainable and resource-efficient building techniques and closed-loop life support systems could inspire more sustainable practices on Earth and help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
- Social and psychological well-being: Considering social and psychological factors for long-term human habitation on Mars could also inform the design of more livable and supportive communities on Earth, promoting well-being and quality of life.
- Education: The project offers a unique opportunity for students to learn about space exploration and innovation, inspiring and cultivating the next generation of scientists, engineers, and architects who can contribute to solving global challenges.
- Interdisciplinary collaboration: The project requires collaboration between experts in different fields, such as architecture, engineering, and space science, which could foster more interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation across various sectors on Earth.
- Global perspective: By exploring the challenges and opportunities of designing habitats on Mars, the project promotes a global perspective, encouraging students to think beyond their local context and consider the broader implications of their work.
The teaching approach focused on generating proposed identities for human habitations rather than solely solving technical requirements, encouraging an iterative design process and exploring the unique conditions on Mars, including site conditions and technical requirements, while also focusing on legal precedent and identity creation. The course included two research and design projects and guest lectures from space exploration and architecture experts to enhance students’ understanding and improve their projects’ rigor, completeness, and clarity.
To enhance the course content, the studio plans to invite several guest lecturers and speakers throughout the semester who will bring additional layers of complexity and information to the studio. These experts include Dr. Robert Thirsk, the Chancellor of the University of Calgary and former Canadian astronaut; Bryan Versteeg, a conceptual designer, and artist from Deep Space Industries; Maher Ezzeddine, the Chairman and President of the Harvard Aerospace and Defense Alumni Organization (HADAO), Kriss Kennedy, a space architect from NASA, Dr. Raffi Tchakerian, an industrial designer and instructor from the American University of Beirut, and Dr. Manoug Manougian, the Director of the STEM Education Center at the University of South Florida. The lectures from these experts provide valuable insights and perspectives to help students develop and refine their projects with greater rigor, completeness, and clarity.
The final product and images of the student’s work remain part of the University Of Calgary and the students’ intellectual property. They are not to be disclosed in any form on this particular project webpage.
All images provided on this page are generated by Artificial Intelligence Software and are solely for promotional purposes (in the form of artists’ impressions), and are the exclusive property of HADAO. Any unauthorized use, reproduction, or distribution of HADAO’s images is strictly prohibited and may result in legal action. HADAO retains the right to enforce its intellectual property rights indefinitely.