Living in the cold light of reason : colonial settlements in Antarctica

Stevens, Quentin & Collis, Christy (2003) Living in the cold light of reason : colonial settlements in Antarctica. In Gusheh, Maryam & Stead, Naomi (Eds.) 20th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand : Progress, 2-5 October 2003, University of Sydney.


In the name of science, the ‘uninhabited’ continent Antarctica is being settled, colonised. What does the architecture of its colonial settlements look like? How are they organised spatially, socially, and ideologically? This paper critically examines the long-term occupation of Antarctica, focusing on two major settlements: McMurdo and Mawson Stations.

The production of an inhabited Antarctic space is examined across various scales and time frames. The paper investigates the historical evolution of built form, function, and meaning at both settlements, as administered by government bureaucracies, represented through symbols and narratives, and spatialised in social practices. The paper also evaluates the siting and management of these bases within a complex geopolitical and legal context of differing national claims to Antarctic space.

These bases are justified by universal, rational doctrines of scientific progress and ecological protection. This paper examines how the architecture of the settlements also furthers divergent socio-political agendas. Apart from their ostensibly scientific ‘function’, the design of these settlements frames certain experiences of landscape and specific relations between work, leisure and place; it frames differentiations of class, status and gender, and between visitors and inhabitants. It also aids in the construction of a particular history of colonisation.

The paper draws upon existing critiques of colonial architecture and urbanism, examining their relevance to Antarctica’s unique geographical and social context, which lacks both indigenous claimants and an architectural vernacular.

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ID Code: 4719
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Antarctica, Colonialism Mawson Station McMurdo Station
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > URBAN AND REGIONAL PLANNING (120500) > History and Theory of the Built Environment (excl. Architecture) (120502)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > HUMAN GEOGRAPHY (160400) > Social and Cultural Geography (160403)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2003 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 21 Jul 2006 00:00
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 13:25

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