Scott Base Hotel: Is Antarctica New Zealand building a luxury polar lodge?

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“New Zealand’s Coolest Redevelopment”: Base Scott. Photo / Jasmax, Hugh Broughton Architects, Antarctica NZ

As New Zealand prepares to build its new Scott base in Antarctica, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a premium polar lodge.

The spectacular wing-shaped structures that will be built on Ross Island have been called “New Zealand’s coolest redevelopment” by the project’s New Zealand architects, Jasmax.

The Green Star 5 Star Design represents a significant improvement over current buildings. Some have been in place since Edmund Hillary’s expedition in 1957.

“Important thinking” has been incorporated into a design that reflects the Maoritanga and especially Kiwi connection to the mainland, with “durability, comfort, economy and style,” says chief architect Hugh Broughton.

Visualizations of the reconstructed interiors of the Scott base.  Photo / Jasmax, Hugh Broughton Architects, Antarctica NZ
Visualizations of the reconstructed interiors of the Scott base. Photo / Jasmax, Hugh Broughton Architects, Antarctica NZ

In the center of the dining room, the 100 occupants will be treated to “a glass end wall with spectacular views of Mount Erebus and Mount Terror”.

It’s the kind of experience that tourists can’t buy. Not yet, at least.

Leading academics and polar tourism operators have accused Antarctica NZ of planning a hotel in Antarctica.

Dr Alan Hemmings, an Antarctic governance specialist at the University of Canterbury, says the similarities between architectural design and an upscale hotel are not accidental.

“The kind of de facto corporatization of the New Zealand Antarctic program means you now have a body of business-thinking people and that’s the Antarctic New Zealand board of directors.”

The Scott Base building shares an architectural pedigree with hotels and museums. Previous projects include the Auckland Cordis Hotel and major English museums. This may seem like overkill for a base that could receive 300 visitors per year.

However, that could all change.

Australian Davis station is rebuilt.  Photo / Hugh Broughton Architects, WSP, AAD
Australian Davis station is rebuilt. Photo / Hugh Broughton Architects, WSP, AAD

Hemmings says many of the trends in New Zealand’s Antarctic redevelopment are seen elsewhere as well. Australia’s NZ $ 472 million Davis station expansion is expected to be delivered over the same 10-year period and includes a permanent track.

“A glorious Scott base could actually be usable as a science station and be a lot nicer than the current one,” says Hemmings. “But in 10 or 20 years, what will prevent its transformation into a hotel?”

The redevelopment of the Scott base is eclipsed by the size of the investments of the American Antarctic program and even Argentina, whose new Antarctic logistics hub in Ushuaia is expected to cost more than NZ $ 400 million.

The British Antarctic Survey's Halley VI research station.  Photo / J Morris, Hugh Broughton Architects, Aecom
The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station. Photo / J Morris, Hugh Broughton Architects, Aecom

Tourism is one of the many pressures driving an explosion of investment and equipment in Antarctica. Visitors have tripled over the past decade to reach nearly 60,000 summer visitors. Yet less than 1% of this water reaches Scott Base and the Ross Sea.

Since 2003, New Zealand’s official policy has been to “limit tourism and other non-governmental activities in Antarctica”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) limits its support for “humanitarian assistance and basic hospitality” to the few hundred tourists and adventurers who travel to the Ross Sea each summer.

However, there are signs that the hard stance against Antarctic tourism is starting to ease.

“I think New Zealand is missing out on a huge opportunity,” says Aaron Russ, director of Heritage Expeditions – the only New Zealand-based operator to visit the continent.

“If you’re looking for where Antarctica’s first hotel will be, there are a few candidates,” he says. “If you have a lead and you have a business partner, there’s no reason it can’t happen.”

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

It’s not just national research programs investing in new equipment to ship south. Heritage recently purchased the Heritage Adventurer, a 140 passenger ice class vessel.

“Antarctic tourism has grown rapidly,” a spokesperson for Mfat told the Herald. “Although during the last Antarctic season there have been almost none, given travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The forecast for the summer of 2021/22 estimated a season of five ships and 1,138 passengers, a six-fold increase compared to 2019. Due to the maritime border decree, Heritage will not be part of it.

Mfat’s current public consultation on New Zealand’s research priorities for the next decade identifies human visitation as one of the most significant changes in the region.

“While the region remains largely unaffected by human intervention, the small number of visitors to Antarctica continues to increase, and there is international interest in ensuring that activities in the region are planned, safe and environmentally friendly. the environment.”

It is during this 10-year period that the Scott Base redevelopment is expected to be delivered.

So can we expect to check in at the Scott Hotel in 2030?

“New Zealand's Coolest Redevelopment”: Base Scott.  Photo / Jasmax, Hugh Broughton Architects, Antarctica NZ
“New Zealand’s Coolest Redevelopment”: Base Scott. Photo / Jasmax, Hugh Broughton Architects, Antarctica NZ

The ‘Five-Star green star’ methodology has been used “to make sure we’re addressing sustainability issues, but we’re not looking to make this a hotel anytime soon,” said Ceisha Poirot, chief policy officer, of environment and safety. in Antarctica New Zealand.

“It’s about taking care of our employees according to 2021 standards.”

The 60-year-old buildings are ready to be removed, much to the relief of the researchers who use them.

However, Hemmings thinks they can still leave the door to the hotel plan ajar.

The next three decades are expected to see major legal infrastructure reviews of equal age. Not only is New Zealand’s policy on tourism in the Southern Ocean 20 years old, but international treaties on Antarctica have significant milestones and revisions.

“You can see it in [the way] most states hedge their bets, because of that ambiguity… after mid-century, ”Hemmings said.


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