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Architecture Beyond the Earth’s Horizon

Architekturzentrum Wien, Podium


December 2, 2009


Architekturzentrum  Wien, Podium


proHelvetia, FFG, RAUM.FILM

It is 40 years since man first stepped on the moon. These first footsteps were followed in astonishment by humanity via television of 21 July 1969 and are still today considered an incomparable milestone. Following a loss of interest in this mission to the moon, a renewed interest in space travel has occurred in the last ten years. New missions to the moon, to Mars and beyond are confronting architects and designers with tasks for which they have to depart from familiar operational territory. The subject being engaged is the future of housing on Earth and in space and the possibilities for working and living in completely new contexts.



Preamble by Barbara Imhof and Kurt Zweifel, Vienna May 2009

Forty years ago, on July 21, 1969 (CET), a human being set foot on Earth’s satellite for the first time, in the Sea of Tranquility or Mare Tranquillitatis to be exact. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were first overcome by silence, then Commander Armstrong uttered the famous line, “That’s one small step for [a] man, but one giant leap for mankind.” And it really was. At 03:56 a.m. Central Eurpean time, millions of bleary-eyed viewers held their breath as they stared at the flickering black and white screen. In that same moment, the human race shared a sense of unity. Armstrong and Aldrin represented homo sapiens in the act of leaving the cradle of humanity after so many millennia. The memory of this morning was burned into our collective consciousness, and when it began to fade individual nations got together in international partnerships to stimulate lunar programs under new political conditions.

In the ten years preceding 1969, there had been about 70 unmanned and manned missions to and around the moon. The deployment of two test pilots to the moon was celebrated as a scientific triumph, the highlight of this incredible technological acceleration.

After a phase of declining attention, interest in space travel has been picking up again in the last two decades. Despite limited funding, the major space agencies have attempted to revitalize the spirit of research of days past and made joint efforts to approach Earth’s closest neighbor. An international crew is set to make new footsteps on the moon in 2020.
“Space exploration is a handcraft,” says American artist Tom Sachs – just like architecture. Every building represents a prototype where only a few prefabricated parts or automatically constructed elements are used. The International Space Station is the largest construction site and soon the largest inhabited structure in space. About 300 kilometers from earth, six people with different backgrounds and cultures are already living there on long-term missions. In terms of structure and budget, the Space Station is the largest research project in international partnership to date and commands respect for that reason alone.

These long-term missions, along with the new impetus from changing occupational structures in the space business and burgeoning space tourism, are introducing new opportunities for architects and designers to get involved. A considerable number of them are working with engineers and scientists on developing designs and architectures for human life outside of Earth’s atmosphere. The process of convincing the space agencies represents a tremendous challenge. Architects and designers have to redefine the scope of their work. They have to find sensible ways to integrate themselves and argue every step they take.

That’s one aspect. The other consists of the expansion of the operational field and the study of future possibilities for living and working. It incorporates concepts of commonalities and differences, including resources, efficiency, economy, technology, cultural dimensions, innovation, and the distinction between gravity and weightlessness.


image courtesy of NASA