visualisation of a house on Mars

Visualisation of a house on Mars © PEARCE+ and Hugh Broughton Architects

A full-scale Martian House, designed for future life on Mars is being built in Bristol

Posted on Tue 5 July

Local artists and Watershed Pervasive Media Studio residents Ella Good and Nicki Kent are building a Martian House.

Can you help to create the interior of a 'Martian House' reflecting the real environmental challenges faced on Mars, and inspire new ideas about how we can all live more sustainably?

The full-scale house, designed for future life on Mars, is being built on M Shed Square as part of the ongoing public art project Building a Martian House. Originally conceived by local artists and Watershed Pervasive Media Studio residents Ella Good and Nicki Kent, the project has so far brought together space scientists, architects, engineers, designers and the public to explore how we live today and stimulate visions for new ways of living here on Earth and on Mars.   

The house will open from 17 Aug 2022 with a three-month programme of workshops, talks and events for all ages. Ahead of that date the artists invite the people of Bristol to get involved and help co-design the interior.

People can register their interest via the project website buildingamartianhouse.com.

A team led by world experts in extreme architecture, Hugh Broughton Architects, working in partnership with design studio Pearce+, developed the design of the house. They have created a lightweight prototype building which could be easily transported to Mars whilst withstanding its inhospitable conditions and the real environmental challenges you would face there - such as average temperatures of -63C and exposure to galactic and cosmic radiation. The team worked alongside scientific and engineering experts Professor Lucy Berthoud, Dr Bob Myhill and Professor James Norman from University of Bristol. A cohort of construction companies led by SCF Construct have generously donated their time and expertise to bring the project to life and funding has been provided by the Edward Marshall Trust.

The design ideas were developed over several years, initially through public workshops with a diverse range of participants ranging from undergraduates and school children to retirees. 

Ella Good and Nicki Kent said:

"Considering how we might live on Mars helps us re-think every aspect of our lives here on Earth. Mars is a place where you'd have to live carefully and sustainably and so helps bring sharp focus on how we live today, and in particular our relationship with consumerism. Our 'Martian House' has been a real collaborative effort and it has been incredible to see what we can make when all sorts of people use their imaginations and skills to work together. We are now thrilled to invite audiences to get involved for a second time and join our interiors team to practically imagine how things might work in a zero-waste environment. This might be creating fabrics, colours, art on the walls, or inventions for pedal powered washing machines, as well as all the little objects of everyday living. We hope our project shows that we can all have input into how we think about the future".

Starting as an empty shell, the interior of the house will come to life as the artists explore with audiences what a new, sustainable culture might look like. The house will comprise two levels with the upper level designed to sit on the Martian landscape and made from a pressurised inflatable gold-coated foil, making it lightweight enough to be transported to Mars. On Mars the walls would be filled with Martian regolith (soil), however this prototype will be filled with air, so it can be reused and will include a hydroponic living room where occupants will be surrounded by plants to aid relaxation.

The lower level is designed to be built below the ground, so the Bristol prototype will be surrounded by a hoarding, printed with information about the project and illustrations from local artist, Andy Council. The space is designed to house two compact private bedroom 'pods'; along with WC and shower, and an environment control and systems room with all of the life support systems powering the house. This section of the interior will be co-designed with the public, and once the exhibit opens, provide a space for a programme of events, research and talks dedicated to re-thinking life on Earth through exploring the challenges of life on Mars.  

Hugh Broughton, Director, Hugh Broughton Architects, said:

"Ella and Nicki have developed an alluring egalitarian concept for 'Building a Martian House'. The envelope and life support systems are being designed by specialists in the fields of space exploration, extreme environments and sustainability with the interiors being designed by the public through an extensive engagement process. The outcomes will be varied, exciting and provide an alternative approach to space design which represents the interests of everyone, not just governments and the super-rich." 

Professor Lucy Berthoud, Professor of Space Systems Engineering, University of Bristol said:

"This project offers us a clean slate to look at how we can live sustainably on a planet, with low power, zero emissions and zero waste. It's really important to have the diverse community of the city of Bristol involved, as we will need everyone's skills and ideas for exploring and living on Mars".

Building a Martian House is an ever evolving, cross-disciplinary and socially engaged artwork providing a blank canvas to research, experiment and start new conversations. Audiences are invited to ask questions and collaborate to generate ideas that would not be possible without a wide range of viewpoints and experiences. The work aims to engage audiences outside of traditional arts institutions to create conversation and change around society itself - looking at how we, collectively, live. 

The house will be presented in partnership with M Shed. The opening will coincide with 'Think Global: Act Bristol', an M Shed exhibition that aims to foster positive action to address the climate and ecological crises. 

Victoria Tillotson, Talent Development Lead at Watershed says:

"Tackling the climate crisis is a massive global challenge that often feels overwhelming and anxiety inducing. By placing community, collaboration and hope at its heart, Building a Martian House offers a powerful counter to this, empowering audiences to consider our cultures and systems with fresh eyes. The work demonstrates how crucial arts and imagination are to the invention of a hopeful, sustainable future. I can't wait to see it come to life."