Colorado Construction Shop students build a safe, eco-friendly shelter for environmental researchers in Antarctica

At a public exhibit on June 7, CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Urbanism (CAP) celebrated the completion of phase I of its Colorado Construction Shop two-year design-build project known by its name as an Antarctic field camp Cape Shirreff. Aimed at improving the living conditions of eight NOAA Fisheries scientists conducting work related to climate change in one of the most challenging environments on earth, Cape Shirreff is a public/private partnership between CU Denver, NOAA Fisheries, Bespoke Project Solutions and OZ Architecture.

Visitors to the June 7 event toured Phase I of the project, a living space with kitchen in one building, and personal space and sleeping quarters in a separate building, built to replace worn-out, decades-old buildings. The new structures were built on the CU Denver campus in 19 weeks by 22 graduate students (40% women) with the goal of improving the health and well-being of rotating groups of four to eight scholars who spend four to five months at a time studying krill, seabirds and marine mammals.

Chancellor Michelle Marks (centre) with CAP students, professors and project partners.

Architect, assistant professor and director of the Colorado Building Workshop Rick Sommerfeld said Cape Shirreff’s effort to advance ecosystem research provides students with invaluable experiential learning. “Working with NOAA and Bespoke allows us to deliver an incredible project with a great portfolio focused on sustainability, zero environmental impact, and getting the job done with talented students working behind the scenes,” he said.

The unique facets of the Cape Shirreff project include prefabricated flat structures, weatherproof layered construction and an off-grid power system. The interior design is specifically designed to accommodate the demanding work schedules and harsh environment of scientists while creating a comfortable interior haven for rest and relaxation that requires minimal maintenance. Design features include a mudroom entrance, sleeping quarters that emphasize privacy and personal storage space, state-of-the-art open kitchen and food storage areas, as well as deliberately positioned windows to capture stunning views of humpback whales, seals and penguins.

“The new sustainably constructed structures will enable the continuation of NOAA Fisheries’ long-term, science-based, ecosystem-based approaches to management in the Southern Ocean,” said George Waters, Division Director of NOAA Fisheries. “We are proud that this is the first LEED-certified (a globally recognized sustainability certification) station in Antarctica.”

An ongoing partnership for sustainable environmental improvement

“We teach students about the project lifecycle from start to finish, from idea and conception to project scope and implementation,” said Jaime Yelvington, Director, Bespoke Project Solutions, a a woman-owned company that leads the management and logistics of construction projects. “It’s great to see collaboration and mutual respect between all the students. Having spent my career in male-dominated industries, this project proves that women can hold leadership positions. »

The new structures showcased at the June 7 event will be disassembled in late June, shipped to Antarctica, and reassembled by a team of University of Denver faculty and alumni during the winter of 2022. Phase II, which will begin in 2023, includes the construction of an eco-friendly laboratory and a small animal observation facility will also be built on campus, dismantled and shipped to Antarctica for reassembly.

The Cape Shirreff Project is the latest effort of the Colorado Building Workshop Graduate Certificate Program to serve the wider community by partnering with organizations on a variety of innovative projects. All focus on the practical application of architectural theory and promote a blend of practical skills, creative design and advanced materials to construct buildings for communities in need. The experiential learning opportunities provided by the Colorado Building Workshop are made possible through the generous support of the Dr. CW Bixler Family Foundation, as well as in-kind contributions and support from businesses and individuals across our community.

Engage diverse students in practical and sustainable design solutions

Paul Larios

The Cape Shirreff Project gives Mexican-born graduate student Paolo Larios the hands-on experience to realize his childhood dream of becoming an architect and the means to use building materials and techniques to create unique and durable. “Sustainability is important to me,” she said. “Growing up, I saw the environmental results when a city stops caring about itself. As designers, we have a responsibility to keep cities livable. By becoming developers ourselves, we can make the difference together.

Larios found the condensed build schedule for Cape Shirreff challenging and working with dedicated teammates, including other women, inspiring. “(Through our work) researchers will have a healthier living environment in buildings made from responsibly sourced materials,” she said.

Student Antonio Valencia, whose role on the Cape Shirreff project included client relations, presenting the design plan and working with the team creating the building’s interior, calls the multidimensional nature of the work “an opportunity once in a lifetime”. He found “learning everything at once and stepping in to help on all levels” stimulating. “The theory of architecture is different from construction and solving problems on site is fascinating. “It’s fast and each phase has made me more connected to the building itself. We have met the researchers who will use the structures and they are passionate about their work. It was exciting to build something that improves their lives.