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Antarcticans to live in blue, ski-mounted, caterpillar

British design for Halley VI

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A British consortium, comprising Engineers Faber Maunsell and Hugh Broughton Architects, has won a contract to build Halley VI, the new British Antarctic Survey base following an international competition.

The base is to be built on a constantly moving shelf of ice, and without intervention, the existing base, Halley V, will most likely end its life drifting out to sea on an iceberg. To prevent Halley VI suffering a similar fate, it will be built on skis, so it can be moved.

It will also be raised above the snow on stilts, as Halley V is, to keep it above the annual accumulation of snow - usually around five feet. Previous bases have slowly been buried and crushed under the weight of years and years of snowfall.

Relocating the base will mean the building must be lowered to ground level, so it can be shoved along with a bulldozer.

The new base design has two main platforms, each with six interconnected modules. It will generate more of its energy renewably, and should handle waste disposal better than its predecessor. It will also, according to reports, look a bit like a giant blue caterpillar.

It has been designed to be as flexible as possible, since it will the base of British scientific operation in Antarctica for 20 years after it has been built.

"One doesn't know what the scientific drivers will be in 20 years' time, what kind of science will need to be done," Hugh Broughton told the BBC. "Global warming will presumably play a huge part; but basically the building needs to be flexible. In our design, labs can be converted to bedrooms and bedrooms to labs according to the need."

Construction work on the base, which will house up to 60 people during the Antarctic summer, should begin in 18 months' time. The work is expected to be completed in December 2008. ®

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