Through its Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, the Australian Government has committed to a new era of Antarctic engagement and will deliver sustainable, world-class facilities to support Australian Antarctic activities into the future. WSP and experts in designing for the Antarctic, Hugh Broughton Architects, were engaged by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to develop a draft master plan to modernise the infrastructure at Davis research station, located in East Antarctica. The Australian Government wants to build a sustainable and resilient station that has flexibility to support future science and emerging technologies. Holistic design, concept development and engagement via a master planning process is the first step towards meeting Australia’s Antarctic goals.
The master planning process for Davis needed to consider a range of options including potential for year-round-aviation-access and a staged approach for modernising the station. It was important for the master planning work to be undertaken in parallel with AAD’s investigations into year-round aviation access runway for Davis. This meant that the designs considered in the draft master plan needed to ensure that each stage is complementary to the next, maximising operational efficiency and minimising disruption. The master planning process needs to consider how to reduce the environmental footprint with innovative, resilient, sustainable and interconnective infrastructure. It needs to identify emerging concepts which can support the physical and psychological wellbeing of expeditioners while still providing an excellent platform for a greater breadth of research, propelling Antarctic science forward and opening areas of investigation to future generations.
The project team was able to overcome unique technical challenges and constraints which:
- Follow a staged approach to master planning that would simultaneously support immediate, mid-term and long-term infrastructure needs
- Lead the way to developing interconnective design solutions that could be shared between multiple Australian stations in Antarctica
- Allocate a high level of importance to logistics and planning
- Incorporate modular design to enable innovative solutions
- Consider extreme and changing weather in design and future operations
- Enhance well-being, health and safety as well as creating a sense of community at the research stations
- Meaningfully engage with key stakeholders during COVID-19 restrictions
WSP approached this project collaboratively, working directly with expert Antarctic architect, Hugh Broughton Architects and AAD subject matter experts to commence the development of a staged, strategic master plan for Davis. Developing a vision for the objectives, principles and strategies which guide the development of Davis station early was crucial to direct the team during the phases of the master plan journey. With this overarching approach, the team could confidently progress into deeper, more detailed concept and technical design (design strategies and principles, concept design, design guidance notes, reference designs, functional requirements). Any concept designs had to be able to support AAD’s considerations for aviation and shipping access as well as ensuring a 50-year life in any redevelopment of the station.
Master planning for Davis developed concepts for living and sleeping accommodation, an operations and administration building and a science and technology building incorporating a 360-degree observatory and science deck. Concepts were also considered for a vehicle workshop, site facilities, services, storage and helicopter facilities. Early concepts show a series of elevated aerodynamic modular designs with link bridges, easily maintainable and allowing for future flexibility to change the use of facilities and enable easy expansion.
The use of new and emerging technology was a critical consideration, including sustainable and efficient infrastructure. The draft master plan looked at ways of reducing consumption of water, improving energy efficiency, and improving management of waste generation, and minimising the station’s environmental impacts and operating costs.
Proposals were developed as a Reference Design to make best use of innovative prefabrication and modularisation techniques to enable a rapid construction process. The designs focussed on achieving timely delivery, energy efficiency, sustainability, environmental protection and health and safety.
Drawing upon the expert knowledge within the team on remote and cold climate locations was invaluable. WSPs Future Ready framework provided the perfect platform for developing 50-year planning solutions required in such a unique and extreme environment. Innovative but adaptable design solutions were needed to ensure future scientific research methods and utility servicing could cope with increased robotics, automation, emerging energy generation techniques and the inevitable but unknown technological developments. While planning, it was vital that the well-being of the expeditioners living and working in such a harsh environment was at the forefront of our minds. The impact of biosecurity risks such as COVID-19 added yet another layer of serious consideration in the master planning process.
AAD will now consider the detailed analysis and road map developed through the Davis master planning process to determine its focus on options for expanding Australia’s wider Antarctic Program capability.
The collaborative approach to the project meant that the client could easily adjust and reprioritise deliverables to assist in its parallel investigations into year-round aviation access to Davis. Using Davis as an exemplar master planning approach for modernising the research stations in Antarctica, the AAD could be confident that solutions developed so far have considered interconnectivity with other stations which ensures a planning and design that is efficient, sustainable, and cost effective. Future master planning in Antarctica will have an excellent design base to proceed.
Sustainability is fundamental to AAD’s mission in Antarctica and so it was critical that sustainability principles and approaches were embedded within the master planning and technical approaches developed by the WSP|HBA team. Acknowledging and understanding the unique climactic, usage and logistical characteristics of Davis Station meant WSP placed significant emphasis on a whole-of-life approach to decision making that supported sustainability objectives. This meant considering not only building energy efficiency and renewable energy such as wind and solar PV, but also the longevity and durability of materials, the impact of building design on snow management vehicles and upstream impacts on shipping and material handling requirements, for example. WSP employed strategies consistent with circular sustainability that promoted the implementation of organic waste processing and water recycling to reduce energy consumption in water generation and aim to limit waste and wastewater impacts – every output from a process was examined and considered as a potential input to other processes.
The integrated design approaches used by the WSP|HBA team considered the overall carbon emissions footprint of each aspect of the master plan and supported a transition toward a low carbon Davis station that leverages the best available design approaches and technologies. This was done while being mindful of the challenges presented by the climate and the environment and keeping safety and resilience as key priorities for Davis Station. Building design focused on appropriate levels of insulation, judicious use of glazing for views and daylight, building sealing and envelope moisture management, as well as efficient hydronic heating systems. Plant design leveraged heat recovery mechanisms and sought to integrate available contributions from renewable energy. Potential electrification strategies were considered to reduce future reliance on fossil fuels and a future shift to renewable electricity.
WSP delivered several workshops with internal stakeholder to understand the key drivers of change that could influence the viability of master plan concepts and design assumptions. Using the Future Ready framework (pictured below), the workshops identified issues such as rising digital expectations, the shift to circular economy principles, and an increased focus on providing health and wellbeing outcomes through the built environment. Practical measures to address emerging risks and access innovation opportunities were identified for consideration in the master plan and subsequent design stages.
Workshops were held to support the master planning process as plans were progressed.
A comprehensive stakeholder engagement process is an essential step in the master planning process. Given the challenges, complexities, and sensitivities of planning for long-term infrastructure in such an extreme and remote environment for living and working, it was critical to gather information and feedback from a variety of sources including those with on-the-ground experience.
The engagement strategy followed a targeted and highly collaborative staged approach by AAD and the project team. It was important to link in with existing AAD communication mechanisms, to effectively reach out to AAD staff, experts, and partners – all while working within a COVID-19 restricted world.
Remote engagement sessions with AAD and its close partners followed a series of highly structured and content rich discussions around streams of work. The facilitated sessions were carefully planned by the project team located in Wellington, Christchurch, London, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney and attended by AAD staff and its partners located in Hobart and Antarctica.
Engagement outcomes from workshops were invaluable in shaping the vision, objectives, principles, and design throughout the master planning process.
To help inform stakeholders during the engagement process, an animated digital fly over of the master planned facilities and site infrastructure was produced by HBA and WSP. It drew upon existing point cloud data and new digital models. For wider community engagement, a summary brochure on the future planning for Davis was produced by WSP and HBA and shared widely by the AAD on its website.
COLD CLIMATE ENGINEERING
As Davis is located in an extreme cold climate, engineering factors and influences were considered early in the master planning. These included: geological, structural, materials, logistics, construction, maintenance and design life. For example, foundations are a significant challenge including the high salinity which affects freezing temperatures of the permafrost and active layer. WSP considered a broad range of options, including bored piles using a technique pioneered at Scott Base, and thermosiphons used in the Arctic.
Logistics including transportation and the very short construction season, only a four-month window between November and February, when there is enough daylight and it is not so cold, has also been considered early in planning. Speed and ease of construction on site are vital, so prefabricated, pre-assembled modular structures for shipping to Antarctica from Tasmania were considered. Because of the ice, the sea isn’t navigable until January (late summer), so timing, transportation and over winter storage of materials was also considered in planning and design. In addition, the atmosphere is extremely dry, which affects choice of materials. In particular shrinkage of wood is significant and options to use acetylated timber are included.
Building design considerations
Within the master plan, buildings were laid out on site to minimise snow drifting and to make snow removal as safe and efficient as possible. Buildings were shown oriented in line with the prevailing wind. Glazing and doors were placed along the long elevations so that they would not be scoured by spindrift (fine ice particles) or wind-blown dust and grit (in summer). Where possible buildings were elevated 1.6m above ground to their underside to allow the wind to scour snow from underneath, although this was not possible in all cases, for example buildings which require regular vehicle access. In these cases, a precast concrete plinth and bollards at vehicle entrances were included to reduce risk of damage by snow clearing equipment. The impact of building location and elevation above ground was assessed in the flumes of specialist snow consultants, RWDI based in Guelph, Canada.
The team developed a Building Information Management (BIM) Execution Plan for the Davis station master planning. This will not only be used for Davis master planning but will also be used for ongoing AAD to meet the requirements and planning for other stations and infrastructure in Antarctica.
Modelling, data and digital services
From the outset, WSP/HBA outlined a broad approach to defining a digital strategy in relation to Davis. This was important as it set the required digital benchmarks throughout the progression of the project and potentially future AAD projects. The team managed digital modelling within a secure Common Data Environment for all information to be in a single location throughout the master planning process. This is an important feature for government clients. In addition, a consolidated survey model was developed for Davis station and the ridge site which can be used by AAD for both the current future projects.