Xtreme iScapes

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Project Details

Student/s: Christina Koukelli

Date: January 25, 2019

The thesis project "Xtreme iScapes" aims on the investigation of the possibilities of architecture under extreme situations and, more specifically in this case study, when exposed in arctic conditions. The main focus is to explore new methods of construction and habitation, making good use of local materials and viable techniques. In these harsh environments, water and temperature compose the main characteristics that determine the landscape, changing at the same time constantly throughout the course of the year, and their combination makes them the main factors of creating solid and habitable structures. The objective of the architectural intervention is, thus, to challenge the basic assumptions of what an architectural demand on the Arctic normally implies: a static structure gives way to a self-regulating and autonomous one, challenging, in this manner, the vernacular ice architecture. By mainly using on-site materials, this project aims to produce an architecture which has more than an additive logic, but is combined with the idea of "burrowing architecture", which is a subtractive methodology. At the same time, there is a focus on creating spaces and typology closer to non-indigenous cultures that are not familiar living under these conditions and have needs for privacy, as well as common and collaborative spaces.
The investigation starts from a microscopic analysis of the main material on site - the water itself and its ice formations - and proceeds to a macroscopic view of the site area, while defining the connection of both and their impact on the human scale. The design process starts, therefore, with a research of the composition and the mechanical properties of ice, as well as its reinforcement possibilities, so as to evaluate the prospects of its use as a construction material for large scale and multiple use structures with specific range and duration. With the application of technology and new means of parametric design, the architecture can be facilitated and adapted to the needs of the users themselves. It's about an architecture that is formed by the surrounding environment and is facing it not as a threat, but rather as an opportunity towards innovative design and construction solutions, taking advantage of the existing conditions and the materials that shape it. Based on the above investigation, the proposal of the project is the design of a temporary research center hub, consisting of group units that specialize in different fields concerning scientific research in the Arctic. In this system, there is a need for cohabitation in an extreme environment, a symbiosis of both the man-made and the natural surroundings, as well as among the different team units. The demand of flexibility is dominant because of the nature and the characteristics of the inhabitants, which are time-depending and their needs are ever-changing and overlapping with one another. These features create an independent and interdependent open-ended system, a microsociety consisting of subsystems that are at the same time autonomous with self-organisation and have a dynamic evolving progress. The proposed architecture has as a starting point the site itself, taking the materials and existing techniques as a given, trying with sustainable techniques to minimize the impact of the human intervention on the environment and the optical impact, while enabling a possible reversal to its initial condition. It emerges from the environment and its materiality and merges into it, providing the organisation, division typology and living qualities of the inhabiting users. The project, therefore, is based on a "less material, more design" logic, focusing on the data given by the site of the intervention and the needs of the users, in an environment that exceeds the normal standards and where the existing obstacles, the shortage in materials and the restraints in architectural practices give way, in the end, to innovative approaches and solutions.

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