Icelab was a joint venture collaboration between the Victoria University the School of Design Antarctic Research Office and Antarctica New Zealand on the development of designs for transportable Polar Field Research Stations.

In 2006 whilst working in London, I was contacted by renowned Architect and Designer Roy Fleetwood to assist him with a new project in Wellington, New Zealand. As Head of School for the Faculty of Architecture and Design at Victoria University, Roy Fleetwood had overseen a student workshop to concept designs of portable structures for extreme environments. I was tasked with taking the concepts and research through to a production ready proof of concept prototype structure. Together we spent 18 months developing and presenting the concept to secure funding for a full scale deployment in Antarctica.

Overview: Proof of Concept

The objective of the joint research and development programme between Antarctica New Zealand and Victoria University of Wellington was to deliver a prototype Field Research Station to Antarctica for proof of concept trials at Cape Evans during the International Polar Year 2007-2008. The project was introduced to the international scientific community in July 2006 in Hobart Tasmania at the SCAR XXIX / COMNAP XVIII Conference.

Brief: The field research station at Cape Evans will be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment by Antarctica New Zealand, a pre-deployment permitting system that accounts for the impacts of the proposed activity in Antarctica. There are three categories of EIA; one for projects that are expected to have a less than minor and transitory impact (a preliminary environmental evaluation or PEE is needed), a minor and transitory impact (an initial environmental evaluation or IEE is needed) or a more than minor and transitory impact (a comprehensive environmental evaluation or CEE is needed). The project at Cape Evans will fall into the middle category and require an IEE. The Environmental Impact Assessment will consider provisions for waste management, fuel consumption, and methods and techniques to minimise volumes and weights of materials to be removed from the field, including wastewater collection and disposal, and general waste handling facilities, to ensure sustainability of the project.

"Further important attributes required for remote field stations include architectural features which will permit the facilities to be transported by Bell 212 helicopter as an external under slung load, or by Twin Otter fixed wing aircraft."


"Field assembly of the modular components will be accomplished by the use of simple hand tools whilst wearing gloves and clothing suitable for extreme cold temperatures."

Detail: Structure

Material: Aluminium
Primary Section: 150x50x6mm back to back C channels
Fixings: 12mm Stainless Steel
Tension: 10mm Stainless Steel threaded bracing
Support: Custom design fork / threaded tube extending legs
Footing: Cast Aluminium Pad with Rebar bored foundation

Engineering support: MWH Global

Each component of the lightweight modular construction system is capable of interconnection to form assemblies of cellular accommodation and circulation spaces at the remote location.

Icelab Scientific Research Laboratories

The unique icelab panel design incorporates a grid of inserts for attachment of the modular furnishing system which allows for varied and adaptable use of icelab modules. Ventilation and electrical systems can be quickly configured to suit the requirements for the laboratory. Integral panel penetration points allow for the safe connection of instrumentation and equipment on the exterior of the module.

The complete waterproof and air-tight icelab module system allows for precise control of the interior climate and air quality through a number of different ventilation configurations depending upon the usage and power requirements of the space.

Designed to withstand the maximum environmental forces, icelab modules are ideal for supporting expensive and fragile electronics and equipment in a variety of extreme conditions.

Icelab Accommodation Modules

The icelab camp shown provides accommodation for up to six people. The bunkroom and living space are separated by a large intermediate module. This module acts as an 'airlock' and has an intermediate temperature. It provides wet weather clothing space, storage spaces and an ablitions unit. The central module aslo serves to separate the quiet bunkroom area from the social module.

The kitchen / social module is arranged with a workspace / food preparation area, a stove, storage spaces and a central table. Further shelving is provided for personal items, books and electronics.

In another configuration, developed for the U.S. National Science Foundation Polar Programme, the scientific laboratories are housed in independent icelab modules adjacent to the accommodation camp.

The structure is secured using a minimum number of foundation points to reduce drilling work. Individual leveling jacks integrated into the design of each leg allow for adjustment to compensate for uneven terrain, resulting in a minimum of site preparation and environmental damage.

Detail: Modules

Major components of the construction system - panels, windows, doors, and supporting structure - are interchangeable and re-configureable to provide a variety of cellular accommodation on an elevated work platform needed to support scientific field research in Antarctica. The assembled and erected modules are designed to be compatible with ISO shipping container locking systems and suitable for transport by rigid sledge over unprepared surfaces, or by Bell 212 helicopter as an external under slung load.

Material: Foam Filled Glass Reinforced Plastic
Panel Thickness: 75-200mm
Fixings: 12mm Stainless Steel
Panel Types: Standard Wall, Window/Door, Reinforced Floor

Engineering support: SP-High Modulus ( Gurit )

Icelab was designed to be deployed with the option of either a raised platform or low platform. The system is designed with a small number of repeated components to create an customisable workspace. Raising the platform above the ground also helps to alleviate issues with drifting snow buildup.

Roy Fleetwood and I travelled to the COMNAP (Council of Managers of National Antarctic Program) conference in Hobart Australia to present Icelab to the Antarctic infrastructure community. This provided an opportunity to present alongside other much larger concurrent Antarctic projects including the formidable Halley VI.

Hobart, Australia
12-14 July 2006
Icelab was profiled in the Spring edition of the Australian Antarctic Magazine 2006
Unfortunately VIC Link and the VUW Antarctic Research Office were unable to secure a commitment from Antarctica New Zealand to support the on-site proof of concept, forcing an inconclusive end to the project. After the office was closed Roy Fleetwood continued to lobby for funding and VIC Link provided funding to produce a single full size panel with the goal of adding a tangible talking point for further presentations. Despite the efforts, the 'season' based funding structure of Antarctica New Zealand was still a barrier to the project which would take several seasons to provide an ROI.
My final task was compiling a 'Manual' to document the research, development and full assembly procedure of the Icelab station. The result was a 165 page design manual, published by VUW Press and available through a number of New Zealand libraries.

Title: Icelab polar field research station : design manual
Authors: Roy Fleetwood, Rory Bladen
ISBN: 9780475123183 / 0475123182
Published: 2008