Oct 102014

This small article is a review that was published in the CLOG: Unpublished edition last year.


A Distant Architecture

Admission to the International Space Station (ISS) is by way of capability; capability to get there and capability to remain there. This is no Laugier’s hut. Only 208 people have visited the ISS. Such is the exclusivity of experiencing architecture in space. The implication is in its nomenclature; that this is a station does more than hint at its military origins, suggesting an extremely practical employment. This is the property of a consortium of institutions. It was not named the International Space City; or the International Space Platform. God forbid that people might just turn up on its doorstep; or would it be hatch?

Or it may be the escalating cost that is prohibitive to a space architecture boom. The ISS is the twelfth in a short list of thirteen habitable space stations. Of the space stations that were never realized, exponentially mushrooming cost was the primary factor in aborting the projects. By the time that the ISS is decommissioned and doomed to a fiery grave upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have cost a rumored US$200 billion. This makes it the most expensive piece of manmade architecture ever constructed, far surpassing the Marina Bay Sands’ measly $5.5 billion in comparison. This cost does however include the US$1.4 billion transfer from Earth.[1]

The ISS is 72.8m long and 108.5m wide. Its width consists primarily of the mega-truss, the principal structure that ties the majority of the solar array units to the station. The habitable modules are attached perpendicularly from the centre of the mega-truss, along with the remainder of the solar array units. It serves as both a laboratory and as an observatory, with only the most necessary of additional programs. It is a simple, yet extremely high-tech architecture. Viewed from the right angle the ISS resembles an abstract, robot-like dragonfly, its not-quite-static solar array wings catching the sun’s light as it orbits the Earth at 27,800kmph.

The assembly of the ISS is the largest and most complex space architecture ever undertaken. From the initial module placed in orbit in 1998 to the final robotic arm in late 2013, it will have taken over 1000 hours of spacewalks to assemble. Its construction required the production of two 1:1 replicas to allow for the training necessary to complete the assembly in space; one underwater for simulated spacewalk training, and one ground to test the internal systems.

The ISS is an amalgamation of past international architectural good will. It is a curious and unequal blend of American modernist aesthetic, from its pure white surfaces and black Helvetica typeface; Russian Constructivism with gravity-defying trussed structure and bold, angled construction; and a dash of Europe’s Archigram inspired techno-utopian aesthetic in the form of ‘plugged-in’ technology including solar array systems, and articulated robotic arms. And while it is its very creation and of course its dramatic location that allows for its deserved inclusion within the canon of architecture, it does possess the most desirable view from a window ever constructed by man.

1. Claude Lafleur, “Costs of US piloted programs”. The Space Review. {2010} : accessed 15 May 2013, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1579/1.


image 1 - the International Space Station

image 1 – the International Space Station (2011), NASA, “no copyright”



image 2 - the cupola


 image 2 – a view from the cupola, aboard the International Space Station (201), NASA, “no copyright”
 October 10, 2014

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