The new structures were built on CU Denver’s campus and will be disassembled in late June, shipped to Antarctica, and reassembled by a CU Denver team of faculty and alum.

Colorado Building Workshop Students Build Safe, Eco-Friendly Shelter for Environmental Researchers in Antarctica

June 14, 2022

At a public exhibition June 7, CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) celebrated completion of Phase I of its Colorado Building Workshop two-year design-build project referred to by its Antarctica field camp name Cape Shirreff. Intended to improve the living conditions of eight NOAA Fisheries scientists conducting climate change-related work in one of the harshest 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 area with kitchen in one building, and personal space and sleeping quarters in a separate building, constructed to replace worn, decades-old buildings. The new structures were built on CU Denver’s campus in 19 weeks by 22 graduate students (40% women) with an eye toward enhancing the health and wellbeing of rotating groups of four to eight researchers who spend four to five months at a time studying krill, seabirds, and marine mammals.

Chancellor Michelle Marks (center) with CAP students, faculty, and project partners.

Architect, Assistant Professor, and Director of the Colorado Building Workshop Rick Sommerfeld said the Cape Shirreff effort to advance ecosystem research provides students with invaluable experiential learning. “Working with both NOAA and Bespoke allows us to deliver an amazing project with a great portfolio that focuses on sustainability, with minimal environmental impact, and to get the job done with talented students working behind the scenes,” he said.

Unique facets of the Cape Shirreff project include flat-packable prefabricated structures, layered, weather resistant construction, and an off-grid power system. The interior design is specifically geared toward accommodating scientists’ demanding work schedules and challenging environment while creating a comfortable, indoor haven for rest and relaxation that requires minimum maintenance. Design features include a mudroom entry, sleeping quarters that emphasize privacy and personal storage space, an open, state-of-the-art kitchen and food storage areas, and windows deliberately positioned to capture stunning views of humpback whales, seals, and penguins.

“The new, sustainably built 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 for NOAA Fisheries. “We hope this will become the first station LEED-certified (a globally recognized sustainability certification) in Antarctica.”

An Ongoing Partnership in Lasting Environmental Improvement

“We are teaching students the project life cycle from start to finish, from the idea and design to project scope and implementation,” said Jaime Yelvington, Principle, Bespoke Project Solutions, a woman-owned company that is leading construction project management and logistics. “It’s great to see a collaboration and mutual respect among all students. Having spent my career in male-dominated industries, this project proves women can be in leadership roles.”

The new structures displayed at the June 7 event will be disassembled in late June, shipped to Antarctica, and reassembled by a CU Denver team of faculty and alum during the winter of 2022. Phase II, commencing in 2023, includes construction of an eco-friendly lab and small animal observation facility to be likewise built on campus, disassembled, and shipped to Antarctica for reassembly.

The Cape Shirreff project is the Colorado Building Workshop graduate certificate program’s latest effort to serve the broader community by partnering with organizations on a variety of innovative projects. All focus on practical application of architectural theory and promote a blend of hands-on skills, creative design, and cutting-edge materials to construct buildings for communities in need. Experiential learning opportunities offered by the Colorado Building Workshop are made possible through the generous support of the Dr. C. W. Bixler Family Foundation, along with contributions and in-kind support from businesses and individuals throughout our community.

Engaging Diverse Students in Hands-On, Sustainable Design Solutions

Paolo Larios

The Cape Shirreff project is giving Paolo Larios, a graduate student of Mexican heritage, the hands-on experience to realize her childhood dream of becoming an architect and the means to employ construction materials and techniques to create unique, sustainable structures. “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 a difference together.”

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

Student Antonio Valencia, whose role in the Cape Shirreff project included client relations, presenting the design plan, and working with the team creating the building’s interior, calls the multi-dimensional nature of the work “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He found “learning all at once and jumping in to help at all levels,” stimulating. “The theory of architecture is different than the construction and to solve problems on the spot is fascinating. “It’s fast-paced and each phase made me more connected to the building itself. We 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.”