Design and Make: The Importance of Construction Collaboration in Antarctica

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When the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) decided in 2017 to update its research facilities in Antarctica, the companies chosen to complete the work decided to collaborate on the project using a “build it before we build it” approach. As described in an Autodesk Digital Builder story, this required meticulous pre-planning, close collaboration, and technology that could unite efforts of three companies. The digital tools employed included Autodesk Revit® and Autodesk BIM 360.

Construction in Antarctica; image: Stuart Webster, BAM

The project to update four research stations and construct a replacement Rothera wharf (completed in 2021) was planned and visualized in detail in the United Kingdom (UK) before onsite construction began.

The project teams needed to ensure predictability in advance for the harshest environment on the planet and the unpredictable Antarctic climate. Because of the remoteness and the construction window – Antarctica experiences six months of summer daylight and six months of winter nighttime – incorrect materials counts were unacceptable. Such mistakes have the potential to add weeks or months to the project timeframe. In addition, the number of workers had to be streamlined. The project site can accommodate up to 60 workers because of the limited living facilities, bed space and onsite supplies. The BAS website explains it takes the workers three and a half weeks to reach Antarctica onboard the latest polar research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough. To conserve labor, some of the new infrastructure was prefabricated in the UK and shipped the 9,320 miles to Antarctica.


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Using Revit helped make the project predictable and portions of it repeatable. Teams could rehearse the project in advance. They could view the models in minute detail. They could plan the steps needed to complete the project. Revit also made it easier to work through design element clashes for better constructability and less waste.

BAS Discovery Building framework, Antarctica; image: Stuart Webster, BAM

With Revit models, teams could focus on a common goal, work together effectively and conquer challenges as a cohesive unit. Stakeholders were brought into the project early, with contractors involved in the planning process. Using a common data environment allows for seamless, real-time collaboration, eliminating surprises or delays during final design and construction. The Revit models provide a clear delivery sequence.

BIM 360 was used to manage equipment and materials, beginning in the UK manufacturing and storage facilities before shipping, then tracked after arrival in Antarctica. The Autodesk story explains BIM 360 models can be accessed by multiple design teams seamlessly. The smooth flow of data helps ensure consistency and enables coordination of even the smallest details. Team members can ensure they’re on the right track at each step of the project.

Construction on Rothera wharf, Antarctica; image: Alan Roper

In addition to Revit and BIM 360, Autodesk Insight building performance analysis software was used to help achieve carbon footprint sustainability goals.

The 2023 construction season began in December 2022, with plans to get the previously constructed framework of a new science and operations facility – Discovery Building – dried-in so internal finish work can proceed through 2025. In addition, work will commence on improving the 32-year-old airport runway, including constructing a new control tower.


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