Architecture for Melting Ice That Also Works in Sinking Cities

The Terra Projects' dwelling could keep scientists on stable ground as ice sheets melt.

(Photo: Courtesy The Terra Projects)

Feb 15, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

In western Greenland and Antarctica, scientists research ice that's melting due to global warming, climate history, and more—crucial stuff for understanding and adapting to a hotter planet. But already, climate change is affecting their ability to do this work: The yearly cycle of ice formation and melting wreaks havoc on the remote research facilities scientists rely on to do their jobs.

Dave Irwin and his firm, The Terra Projects, has designed a stable research platform intended to survive these extreme environments, and now he thinks a design optimized for one of the most remote locations on Earth could be used in coastal cities around the world prone to sea-leavel rise.

Under emergency conditions following hurricanes or tsunamis, infrastructure needs to be rapidly established in flooded cities. The floating foundation system Terra Projects designed for makeshift buildings that house scientists and their labs,” Irwin says on the firm’s website, is “the perfect product for architects to use under shelters of their own design that are in unpredictable environments.”

Antarctic-proof architecture isn’t all the firm specializes in. Irwin also designed a foldable stove vent to help ventilate the homes of Sherpas in Nepal, who suffer shortened lives due to smoke inhalation. Another innovation: specialized pods that act as individual enclaves—a retreat from the bustling metropolis.

Below, Irwin offers his insights on a few of The Terra Projects’ latest designs.


(Photo: Courtesy The Terra Projects)

Irwin: Changing ice in western Greenland and Antarctica has given way to problems in housing facilities for scientific researchers—our front line to gathering data on a changing climate. As an architect, I saw an opportunity to redesign the way that we currently build on ice and deal with this dynamic topography. RIG is a patent-pending smart platform and the first of its kind. The rapidly deployable, temporary housing platform knows when it needs to stabilize itself due to changes in the ground below and can also sense the presence of groundwater accumulation.


(Photo: Courtesy The Terra Projects)

Irwin: There is a huge problem facing the Sherpa community of Nepal. The average life expectancy is only 48 years, and people are dying from smoke inhalation from their own cooking stoves.

(Photo: Courtesy The Terra Projects)

Irwin: VENT is a device that addresses this issue by using an exhaust fan that can be easily retrofitted into the home. We will be presenting VENT in Nepal this spring to glean community feedback and have exciting collaborators on the project in the exploration and adventure communities.


(Photo: Courtesy The Terra Projects)

Irwin: Designed as a way to retreat from the busy city, the RHIZOME offers a hammock-like enclosure to rest in and connect to a larger network of RHIZOME pods. It was manufactured by Fabric Images and commissioned by Brooklyn Bridge Park. I worked as part of a collective of architects including Michael Dolatowski, Katherine Kania, and Isobel Herbold to bring this project to life. The RHIZOME chair was shown at North America’s largest furniture fair, ICFF, in 2010 and went into production soon after.