Structural thermal breaks are employed to provide a habitable station in Antarctica's hostile environment.
The Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station (EACF) that will operate for the Brazilian Science and Technology Ministry, commissioned and maintained by the Brazilian Navy, will be located 600 miles south of the South America's tip. The plan is to be completed by 2018 at a cost of $100 million. It will support technological research in a secure work space, while providing safe and comfortable living conditions in an area of about 3.160 square meters.
Thermal breaks are used to prevent its warm interior steel structure from dissipating heat through steel pillars exposed to sub-zero temperatures and high winds. The phenomenon is called thermal bridging.
Thermal bridging typically occurs where structural steel beams or cast concrete penetrate an insulated building envelope. These penetrations conduct heat from interior support structures through the envelope, dissipating it into the exterior environment with three harmful effects:
1. Energy waste and carbon emissions,
2. Cold interior walls and floors reducing occupant comfort
3. Chilled interior surfaces adjacent to penetrations forming condensation, causing structural steel to rust and the potential for mold growth.
Thermal bridging consequences can prove particularly severe in Antarctica due to extreme interior-exterior temperature.
In order to accomplish the project, the Brazilian Navy held a competition in 2013. Estudio 41, an architecture firm in Brazil won the competition and took over the demanding project. Emerson Vidital, the lead architect of Estudio 41 stated: "The design takes into consideration the challenges of supporting technological performance in such an extreme climate, while still considering the facility's aesthetics, offering a comfortable and secure work space. Taking into account the topography of its site, we created a design that minimizes impacts on surrounding wildlife and plant life in the immediate environment, while providing an optimum work and living space." The station is divided in 2 core blocks organized to function. The upper block includes living quarters for 64 residents including cabins, dining and service areas. In the lower block, 17 laboratories along with operation and maintenance zones are accommodated. The central barn and garages are located in another lower level. The 3 areas are connected via component structures which provide additional common rooms (auditorium, cybercafe, library, meeting and video conference rooms).
The structural design was challenging due to 3 factors:
The facade is resistant to corrosion and strong winds, requiring low maintenance. For this reason, concealed-fitting, galvanized and coated sheet steel panels with rigid polyurethane foam insulation were used. The station mitigates wind force as it is fabricated in elongated, streamlined, prefabricated modular sections – continuously joined and arranged linearly. The steel plates that support the floors consist of trusses positioned along a grid, modulated with 0.6 x 1.2 m. panels. The walls are placed at a maximum of 12m. apart while latticed, vertical braces support the roofs. The foundation consists of steel pillars that transfer the load onto the ice.
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