Single-shell cocoons in Antarctica. (Photo: Misawa Homes)
Unrelenting winter nights and endless summer days. Temperatures that can plummet to 120 below or more. Snow, ice, and rock. There are few environments on earth more hostile than the frozen Antarctic wastelands. But even with winds of up to nearly 200 mph, it’s not impossible for people to survive in the coldest place on the planet.
In fact, humans are able to live in almost every world climate, driest deserts and densest jungles included—and it helps if you’ve got the right kind of shelter.
With permanent bases from countries all over the world, there are a number of approaches to building design in the harsh Antarctic region. Construction company Misawa Homes, which built most of the Antarctic facilities for the Japanese government’s Showa Station, opted for single-shell housing technology — useful when trying to keep out some of the coldest temperatures on earth.
On the other end of the climate spectrum, rainforests demand a much different approach to adaptive construction. One house in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, is specially built to its jungle environment. The Iporanga “tree house” stands three stories tall, is partially wrapped in glass walls, and is tightly nestled into the forest, with the trees all but scraping the windows. The house, with its modest use of concrete and steel, plays chameleon by blending into the leaves which surround it.
Read on for more about these and other homes built for extreme climates:
Frozen Wasteland Cocoons
East Ongul Island, Antarctica
Outdoors, the thermometer reads 80 below and the winds whirl at 120 mph. Indoors, it’s toasty warm. The ultimate in form following way behind function, these Antarctic boxes are also wrapped in a “single shell,” with features to withstand the most unforgiving climactic conditions on the planet. With a design based on the company’s wooden-panel adhesion system, the polar dwellings are built to take an estimated 100 years of Antarctic punishment.
Iporanga Jungle Tree House
Near São Paulo, Brazil
Chimps have got it figured out: if you’re going to live in a rainforest, it’s better to be perched up in the trees. Brazilian architecture company Nitsche Arquitetos Associados designed this home in the thick forest outside São Paulo in 2006.
Five bedrooms on the top level of this three-story home provide both a high lookout from which to survey the surrounding jungle and privacy due to the height. But the main level is unquestionably the main attraction of the home, with a hyper-modern living room, dining room and kitchen. Structural elements, such as I-beams, are as exposed as the residents within. Though much of the home is made of steel, glass and concrete, the house never feels out of place, thanks to the way in which outside foliage plays a central role in the design scheme.
Near Scotty's Junction, Nevada
Nottoscale, a San Francisco-based architectural company, used its own prefab building system to put together this one-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot desert house. Situated on a 40-acre lot, the home is completely dwarfed by its surroundings and looks every bit like the prefab home (with a modern sensibility) that it is. But the home isn’t the point – the location is.
“Isolation is much of the beauty of the property,” says the firm’s website. Another beautiful aspect? Its environmental efficiency. The desert dwelling is heated with a hydronic radiant system and features high-performance insulation. The home’s minimalist approach includes a simple 900-square-foot deck.
Skakafjördur Fjord, Iceland
Located 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, this sturdy home efficiently protects its residents from outside elements. Built on an estate that includes a church, barn and a cowshed, the home is built with natural and recycled construction materials such as cedar and concrete walls designed to visibly age according to the weather.
Geothermal and solar sources heat the entirety of the home. The grass turf on the roof, which was salvaged from some of the ground on which the home was built, isn’t the only material the architects reused: stone from the old house was cut to pave ground surfaces outside the new one, and old telegraph poles were used for building windows. The home was designed by Icelandic architectural firm Studio Granda.
Aleutian Island Geothermal Bunker
This eco-smart bunker is built to withstand the harsh Aleutian Island environment while using as much energy and water as it produces. Though the home doesn’t actually exist yet (it's still in the design phase) its ingenious design won the Living Aleutian Design Competition, which asked architects to design a home that was net-zero water and energy usage and made use of locally sourced materials.
In an environment that brings frequent 100 mph winds and punishing rains, the concept home would hunker down against the elements, drawing heat from geothermal sources below, and energy from wind turbines that harness the elements. Architecture collective Taller Abierto won the contest in May, and along with it $35,000 plus the opportunity to follow up and actually build a home in Atka, Alaska.
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