A rendering of a gold building on mars
Courtesy PEARCE+ and Hugh Broughton Architects

Welcome to Life on Mars

A public art and architecture project in England imagines how we might live sustainably on the red planet.

An inflatable golden structure has landed in the British city of Bristol, dedicated to exploring how we might live on Mars. Imagined by local artists Ella Good and Nicki Kent and designed by Hugh Broughton Architects—experts in remote, Antarctic research station projects—in collaboration with design studio Pearce+, the installation creates an immersive prototype home, moving beyond pie-in-the-sky renders of colony designs to creating something tangible and propositional for a Martian context. And it might just help us learn lessons about resource-scarce living back on Earth.

Mars is, unsurprisingly, not a hospitable environment for humans and when designing the prototype home, the project team had to take extreme conditions into account. Mars has 38 percent of the gravity that exists on Earth; the sun is further away, meaning it is darker, and dust storms can obscure the sky for months; the atmosphere is thin and poisonous to humans; temperatures vary wildly but average -63 degrees centigrade; and exposure to galactic and cosmic radiation is 100 times higher than on Earth. In response, and working alongside space scientists and engineers from the University of Bristol, the design team conceived of a solar-powered living environment that is largely underground, occupying the empty lava tubes that exist below Mars’ surface in order to protect occupants from radiation, with a small structure rising above ground.

an image of a prototype for a house on mars
an image of a golden inflatable building that serves as a prototype for housing on mars

The 570-square-foot prototype features an “underground” layer—where one can find compact bedroom pods and a special “Martian loo” developed by Duravit—that is contained in a ground-level converted shipping container. The “above-ground” structure is located within a pressurized, foil-coated inflatable and functions as a living and kitchenette space. On Mars, the thick inflatable walls would be filled with Martian regolith (soil) in order to be robust and insulating, but in Bristol they are filled with air to enable reuse of the structure.

The project team has also taken into account the experience of daily life and wellbeing, and through a series of public workshops gathered input on what would make life in a Martian home happier. “We wanted a future built by people, rather than a technocratic vision,” says Kent. As a result, there is a sensory hydroponic garden room filled with plants, curated by artist Katy Connor, as well as a skylight and windows out onto the landscape.

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an interior of an inflatable home designed to be a house on mars

Throughout the Martian home’s residency in Bristol, the interior design will develop and evolve with the help of volunteers, feeding in ideas for everything from furniture and wallpaper to clothes and toiletries, with a focus on items that are repairable, multi-functional, and zero waste.

Being immersed in the strangeness—and let’s be honest, terror—of how to actually live on Mars highlights just how urgent it is to take better care of our own planet, to ensure it can remain habitable. And this is a key ambition of the closed-loop, resource-efficient project: as resources dwindle and conditions on our planet become more extreme, the Martian home encourages one to consider how we can more sustainably live on Earth. “It’s not a finished answer,” says Kent. “It’s a place for conversations.”

Building a Martian House is open to the public from 31 August to 30 October 2022 at M Shed Square in Bristol, UK.

an image of an interior of a room with red and plywood walls with two people sitting on seats

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