How do you turn a tiny science-city at the far end of the earth into a flexible biosphere capable of skating around vast fields of ice with up to 90 m.p.h. winds and temperatures that can drop below 100 degrees F?
Like this: Imagine something that’s a squatter, bluer version of the sandcrawler in Star Wars, multiplied sevenfold, with each structure linked like train cars. Now perch it high above the ground on hydraulically elevated legs that are capped off with ski-like “feet.” Finally, place this bizarre-sounding “centipede city” somewhere in a beautifully austere, wind-scoured snowscape — say, Antarctica — and you get Halley VI, the world’s first perambulatory municipality. A moveable city.
Well, maybe calling it a “research center” would be more accurate, because that’s it’s main purpose on the floating ice shelf just 900 miles or so from the South Pole itself. Credit goes to British design outfit Hugh Broughton Architects, who pulled the $41 million project together after winning an international competition for a “self-sufficient scientific research base.”
And yes, it can actually move, though not under its own power: It has to be towed by bulldozers. According to the designers, the hydraulic legs allow each module to climb up out of the annually occurring snow, which would otherwise leave the research structures buried.
Modularity and mobility were essential toward winning the contract: The ice shelf Halley VI rests on moves 1300 feet each year into the sea, thus the need to periodically haul it back inland. And breaking the station into component sections — labs, sleeping quarters, energy centers and recreation areas — allows it to be rearranged at will.
All practicality aside, if you just squint a little, you can almost see this thing popping up, George Lucas-CGI-rethink-style, in one of the The Empire Strikes Back‘s opening scenes.