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When approaching the challenge of living on Mars, the focus for creative minds is often on the immediate practical needs of an early colony. This gives rise to the “white cans on red dirt” image that is common to many designs.

Alternatively, when looking further into the future, aspirational representations typically feature Utopian visions of domes or a terraformed biosphere.

To address the brief of “Mars Vernacular”, our team has instead taken an architectural approach that explores the spaces humans inhabit from within, rather than as objects in a landscape.

We look to provide a space that fulfills intrinsically human needs of interaction, civic engagement and the trade of ideas and goods.

In the harsh environment of a new world, accessible and culturally rich public spaces take on even greater importance to help residents not feel imprisoned within the walls of their life support system.

We have taken the long view to create a built form that bridges between the practical needs of the present and the future visions of what Mars could be.

In creating this canopied public realm that can adapt to changes over time, we look at four key time frames; DUST, ICE, WARMTH and LIFE.

Upon arrival, early Martians work and live in a severe landscape of DUST and solar radiation. Sheltering in prefabricated habitats, they lack streets and a public realm to foster civic feeling and interaction.

By enclosing and defining space using basic local materials of stone, brick and a canopy of ICE, protection is provided from solar radiation and the thin atmosphere. This canopy offers opportunities for artistic expression in carving the underside surface and offers a cold but habitable space for people to grow into. With the use of sophisticated, locally formulated materials such as synthetic polymer resin, the carved surface of the ice can be coated to create an airtight enclosure that carries the imprint of this sculpted form.

Permanent human settlement on Mars will always carry with it the desire to create an atmosphere capable of sustaining life. Over time, as a carbon dioxide atmosphere is gradually created, the ice layer sublimates away leaving the resin canopy behind. This canopy allows residents to experience WARMTH and light, while giving a pocket of breathable air to inhabit while the long process of atmospheric oxygenation continues.

One day long from now, Mars could host a biosphere full of LIFE as rich and complex as that of our ancestral home. While the nature of the society and technology required to create such a biosphere can only be dreamed of, the need to preserve heritage and reminders of past origins has been a part of the human psyche since our prehistory.

The environmental conditions and limits on technology and materials that gave rise to the resin canopy may no longer apply, yet the canopy itself remains as a historical artefact. It carries the touch of the hand and serves to remind future Martians of the dreams, hopes and aspirations of those who came before.