Chilean architects create sustainable shelter for Ice Fields

The construction was built using environmentally low-impact technology and strong insulation capable of resisting the extreme climate of Patagonia.


The ice fields located in Chilean Patagonia offer visitors one of the most extreme landscapes of the planet. To make stays on these gigantic frozen masses more comfortable, a group of architects from the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (USM) developed a sustainable module for research in that area, capable of housing eight people for up to two weeks.

The shelter was designed by the USM Extreme Architecture team, supported by personnel from the Glaciology and Snow Unit of the General Water Directorate (Dirección General de Aguas (DGA)) and the local Army base in Coyhaique, in the Region of Aysén.

The construction consists of several parts designed for ease of assembly and transport, either by land or parachuted from an airplane. It is built of polyester hulls reinforced with fiberglass, insulated with spray-applied polyurethane foam (SPF). The curved hulls are mounted on three platforms with a light metal structure, and isolated with a wood floor. The windows are all double acrylate.

Thanks to its strong insulation, the module makes it possible to reach and maintain comfortable temperatures. It also is equipped with adjustable upper ventilation shafts and CO2 disposal using gravity. “The architectural design, especially conceived to resist heavy snow loads and winds of over 93 mph, contemplates several solar installations: it uses a small photovoltaic panel associated with a deep cycle battery for low temperatures and a 12 DC-220AC power inverter that makes it possible to install efficient bulbs of only 8 watts”, explains Pedro Serrano, one of the developers.

Another of the environmentally friendly applications is a solar ice-melting system to obtain water, a piece of equipment that is based on the technology used in solar-powered kitchens. It also “has dry solar sanitary installations that meet the highest specifications in terms of the environmental impact a human expedition can have in a protected area of eternal ice”, indicated the architect. Inside there is an electric control desk for the energy charged by a photovoltaic panel, where it is possible to charge or connect GPSs, radio equipment and computers.

Ice fields are huge expanses of continental ice masses. There are three such fields located in the south of Chile: the Southern Patagonia Ice Field (shared with Argentina), the Northern Patagonia Ice Field and the Gran Campo Nevado (Great Snow Field).