University of Bristol: A gold inflatable Martian House designed to withstand life on Mars has landed in Bristol

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The brainchild of local artists and Watershed Pervasive Media Studio residents Ella Good and Nicki Kent, the project has been designed over several years and brought together space scientists, world renowned architects, engineers, designers, school children and the public, to explore how considering future life on Mars, a planet with low power, zero emissions and zero waste, can inspire us to think creatively about how we can live more sustainably on earth and reassess our relationship with consumerism.

A team led by Hugh Broughton Architects, world experts in creating buildings for extreme environments including the Halley VI British Antarctic Research Station, working in partnership with design studio Pearce+, developed the design of the house.

The design team worked alongside space science and engineering experts Professor Lucy Berthoud, Dr Robert Myhill and Professor James Norman from the University of Bristol. A cohort of construction companies led by Southern Construction Framework generously donated their time and expertise to bring the project to life and funding has been provided by the Edward Marshall Trust.

The two-storey 53sqm house is powered by solar panels and designed to be lightweight and withstand the environmental challenges that would be faced on Mars – such as average temperatures of -63 degree Centigrade and exposure to galactic and cosmic radiation. The upper level is made from a pressurised inflatable gold-coated foil created by specialists Inflate.

On Mars the walls would be filled with Martian regolith (soil), however this prototype is filled with air, so it can be reused. It sits on the Martian landscape and contains a hydroponic living room where occupants are surrounded by plants to aid relaxation and support a healthy diet.

The lower level is designed to be built underground within the lava tubes that exist beneath the planetary surface. As Mars has a thin atmosphere this will protect the inhabitants from high levels of radiation. The lower level of the prototype is surrounded by a hoarding with details about the project and illustrations by artist Andy Council.

This level contains the environmental control room with all the life support systems powering the house, two compact bedroom ‘pods’; along with a shower and a ‘Martian loo’ with low water use, designed by Duravit, prize winners in the NASA Lunar Loo competition. The interior design will be developed with a group of volunteers and will come to life over the lifespan of the project; everything from furniture to the smaller essentials of everyday living like Martian clothes, toothbrush and wallpaper, with a focus on creating items that are easy to repair, are multi-functional and contribute zero waste.

The house will open for public viewings of the lower ground floor every Wednesday and Saturday from 31 August – 16 October. Ahead of that date between 17- 31 August 2022, families are invited to attend a series of drop-in workshops, led by Spacewear fashion and textiles artist Anurita Chandola where they can learn to create textiles and clothes using simple materials that might be available in an off-world settlement like Mars.

A host of events will run across September and October, including workshops held in the hydroponic garden room led by artist Dr Katy Connor. An Introduction to Hydropoetics, is a chance to learn about the hydroponic systems, plant species and how to care for the plants, whilst Shinrin Yoku: Plant Bathing in the Martian House is a unique opportunity to experience the plants through sensory engagement through plant inspired meditation and tea drinking ceremony. Catch up with the progress of the interiors team at aLunch Time Talk at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio and join the full ‘Building a Martian House’ team for a live panel discussion where they can learn about the research and design process involved in creating the house… and what living in a house on Mars might be like.

Full details of these and all events taking place throughout August, September and October are available on the website buildingamartianhouse.com.

Ella Good and Nicki Kent said: “This project is a place for research and experiments about the future. Using Mars as a lens because of its resource limited nature helps focus our conversations around what we need and how we want to live. We’re really excited for the public to come along and see some of the research that’s happening in the house – as well as coming on a viewing to see what we’re making for the interiors, there are special opportunities to come to workshops with other artists around hydroponics and textiles. We hope everyone finds something they are interested in – the aim is to spark conversations that go beyond the project, rather than providing all the answers.”

Hugh Broughton, Director, Hugh Broughton Architects, said: “This is the first Martian House to receive a building consent and it is so exciting to see it built in Bristol. The design draws upon principles developed for extreme environments on earth overlayed with solutions to the logistic and environmental challenges of building on Mars, which we have developed with the help of space scientists. It is a prototype, intended to challenge people’s perceptions of what life on Mars might be like and to provide a canvas for them to suggest their own ideas to make the house as comfortable and welcoming as possible. It has been a triumph of collaboration with so many specialists, designers, engineers and builders giving their time for free, demonstrating what can be achieved with a collective will and effort. The project provides an alternative approach to space design which represents the interests of everyone, not just governments and the super-rich.”

Dr Robert Myhill, Lecturer in Earth and Planetary Science, University of Bristol said: “The Martian House is a truly remarkable project grounded in decades of scientific knowledge and engineering innovation. Mars would be an exceptionally challenging environment to travel to and live in, and the house provides an inspiring vision of how we might work together to deal with those challenges. The project is also a rare opportunity to reimagine how technology can work for us; not just so that we can exist, but so that we can live happy and fulfilling lives, wherever we are in the universe.”

Lucy Berthoud, Professor of Space Systems Engineering, also from the University of Bristol, added: “This project offers us a clean slate to look at how we can live sustainably on a planet, with low power, zero emissions and zero waste. It’s really important to have the diverse community of the city of Bristol involved, as we will need everyone’s skills and ideas for exploring and living on Mars.”

The house is presented in partnership with M Shed. The opening coincides with ‘Think Global: Act Bristol’, an M Shed exhibition that aims to foster positive action to address the climate and ecological crises.

Building a Martian House is an evolving, cross-disciplinary and socially engaged artwork providing a blank canvas to research, experiment and start new conversations. Audiences are invited to ask questions and collaborate to generate ideas that would not be possible without a wide range of viewpoints and experiences. The work aims to engage audiences outside of traditional arts institutions to create conversation and change around society itself – looking at how we, collectively, live.

For those unable to visit the house in person, an online virtual tour experience showing the interiors of the house will be made available, produced by Future Virtual.

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