Decades after the National Science Foundation took over the old McMurdo naval base in Antarctica, and five years after design work began, there are renderings of the plan for a new McMurdo.
The OZ Architecture design will consolidate the current 105 buildings into six large, insulated, modern buildings. The new McMurdo is of this moment: It looks like an Apple Store.
Perched on volcanic gravel near the Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo is the largest community in Antarctica with over 1,200 residents during summer and about a quarter as many during the winter. Many are scientists, but the support staff includes workers from all the trades—plumbers, carpenters, HVAC specialists, IT folks.
The old McMurdo was constructed for the International Geophysical Year of 1957 by a special group from the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion called “Task Force 43.” It was part of Operation Deep Freeze, the overarching U.S. military movement into Antarctica. Film from the time shows what a brutal task it was. Tractors dragged sleds laden with construction materials bumping over sea ice. It was bleak.
The most salient fact from the construction process is that McMurdo was never intended as a permanent settlement. And yet, there it is, sitting by the volcano, pressed into service by the “beakers,” as the Navy guys called the scientists taking over.
As one might imagine, there are problems with adapting a transient military facility into a permanent scientific research base. In 2012, a Blue Ribbon Panel catalogued all the facilities’ needs in Antarctica. That led to the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science, which selected OZ Architecture to do a master plan for the site.