Future Tech

Life On Mars!

Bjarke Ingels Plans 100 Years Ahead with Designs for First Human Colony on Mars

BIG co-founder and creative director Bjarke Ingels has a vision for the future that is out of this world – literally.  The celebrated architect’s latest project to build a human habitat on Mars has a due date of 2117, but that hasn’t kept him and his team from moving quickly towards a real-life terrestrial prototype, which will be built with materials, structures, and processes that may someday be used to help facilitate humanity’s migration to the red planet.

All photos courtesy of Bjarke Ingels Group

BIG’s recently-released plans for the prototype, commissioned by the United Arab Emirates, showcase a collection of conjoined geodesic domes with water-filled skylights. Built in the middle of a Dubai desert that closely resembles the sands of Mars, BIG’s Mars Science City will become the first prototype of Martian architecture on Earth.

Besides serving as a test-case for future construction 35 million miles away – it will also double as an exhibition space and learning center focused on developing the technology, agriculture, and tools necessary to enable humankind to survive on Mars.  “Almost like a campus in the desert,” Bjarke says with a smile.

When you’re trying to change things, passion is a major driving force.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the trajectory of Ingels’ career is the stuff of legend.  Bjarke’s namesake company, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) has created a sensation worldwide by incorporating sustainable development and sociological concepts into their architectural designs.  “We try to think about cities as man-made eco-systems. Not just floor plans but also the flow of people… [and] how our environment channels our resources.”

For example, BIG is currently building an apartment structure in the port of Amsterdam that will allow ships to sail directly into the center courtyard, their Waste-to-Energy Power Plant in Copenhagen utilizes its sloped roof as the mountain-less city’s first ski park, and their Waterfront Park in Manhattan “[combines] the hard engineering necessary to resist a flood with the social environmental benefits of a rejuvenated waterfront.”  BIG is also currently designing the new Two World Trade Center building in Manhattan as well.

Photo courtesy of ArchitecturalDigest.com

“All these projects deal with trying to solve more than one problem with a [single] solution.  That becomes relevant when you start looking at how you can turn Mars into a habitat for humans.”

Because let’s face it, Mars certainly has its challenges: radiation, low temperatures, and no ready-to-use water or breathable air are a few that come to mind.  

“To begin with we said where can we learn from Earth how one might inhabit Mars.  Look at Tunisia.  What looks like a lifeless desert from above is actually a densely populated village where the locals have developed these techniques of excavating homes into the soil to create more stable temperatures … and protect against the environment.  In Greenland – using frozen ice as an insulator and using spherical forms to create maximum protection from the elements in various materials.”

Bjarke goes on to talk about Roald Amundsen who traversed the northwest passage over Canada by actually living off land like the native Innuits.  Instead of bringing big ships, cars, or horses, he brought kayaks, sleds and dogs.  “In a way, we have to become Martians if we want to succeed.  Building settlements on Mars will be like inventing a new vernacular architecture.  Martians will be like indigenous settlers, inventing structures for the first time, understanding local materials, climate, physics, safety, and comfort.”


Ingels and his team are quick to point to the positives:  “Mars has almost the same 24 hour cycle as we do – so all biological species that have originated accustomed to a 24-hour cycle are going to function fine on Mars.  [Mars has] the same seasonal tilt as we do, so it has the same four seasons.”  Furthermore, with plenty of carbon, oxygen, hidden water ice, metallic resources and solar, wind, and geothermal energy, BIG sees solutions hiding just under the soil.

“Of course the first landers will have to bring everything they need from home – so it will have to be compact and light.  Then maybe we can bring machinery to use local materials to create.”

He explains in detail hypothetical ways of converting known raw materials on Mars, extracting frozen water and other minerals and mixing them to create concrete and glass, using iron oxide and chemical reactions to create fiberglass, plastics and steel.  And then using those materials to create an electrolysis plant that will allow us water molecules to be split into hydrogen and oxygen to create other fundamental materials – including rocket propellant for any Martian inhabitant who may have dreams of returning home.  And since the radiation on Mars is actually safe for plants, using aeroponics for local food production is a very real possibility.

“In a way what we need to do is create a man-made ecosystem that can create a self-sustained habitat on Mars.”

For now, BIG is convinced that a hybrid of architectural techniques is the right answer to the challenges of the Martian environment.  “An inflatable structure is ideal for having pressurized environment but offers little protection against radiation, 3D structures provide more protection but wouldn’t be as air-tight, and excavated structures would give you the full protection but perhaps less of a desire-able habitat in terms of daylight and spaciousness.  None of them tick all the boxes but if you imagine a hybrid – you can actually create an environment where you spend some of your time out in the open, some of your time within the buildings, and some of your time fully protected.”

And what does Bjarke think a Mars habitat could mean for the future of humanity?  “I think this idea of thinking holistically in eco-systems, thinking in resources and thinking in circular economies – once that gets refined to the extent that will be necessary to have a self-sustained human community on Mars then we will basically also have the solution to our challenges here on Earth.”

For more information on The Mars Science City project, visit their website here.

Bjarke Ingels is a world-renowned architect responsible for some of modern history’s most innovative architectural initiatives. He is a WORLDZ Master and delivered a Keynote address at WORLDZ 2017.