Engineering award for Davis station

A new super-insulated building at Australia’s Davis station has won an Engineers Australia Award for Excellence.

The Davis station living quarters, designed by the Australian Antarctic Division and Hyder Consulting, is a steel framed building clad in thermally efficient fibre-composite panels, made from extruded polystyrene foam, laminated timber and a fibreglass ‘skin’.

The building can accommodate up to 120 expeditioners and contains a new kitchen, dining room and common areas such as lounges, cinema and a library.

Traditionally, the Antarctic Division has used commercially available cool room style sandwich panels to insulate its buildings from the Antarctic weather. The new 205mm-thick fibre-composite panels have a greatly improved thermal efficiency, and are flexible and strong. The panels were fabricated at the Antarctic Division’s headquarters in Kingston before being shipped south.

The building’s main structural steel frame and its foundations were tailored to maximise the inherent strength in the panels. A unique panel fixing method was developed that utilised stainless steel coach screws to fix the fibre-composite panels to the steel frame from the inside only. Laminated timber beams were incorporated into the panels at specific locations to enable them to be fixed to the steel frame without using a bolt to penetrate the panels’ outer skin. This eliminates the ingress of cold from outside, and therefore the need for additional thermal flashing.

A potential draw-back of the fibre-composite panels was the build-up of electrostatic charge, due to the action of wind over fibreglass in the dry Antarctic atmosphere. To prevent this, a carbon cloth layer was incorporated into the outer skin of the panel to conduct charge to earth via a drain wire. The carbon cloth layer also provides additional strength and therefore better protection from the impact of any flying debris in extreme winds.

The extreme Antarctic weather conditions dictated every aspect of the building project, including the internal layout of the building, which aimed to improve functionality and minimise the impact on scientists’ optical experiments. For example, the southern and eastern ends of the building, which are exposed to the more extreme weather conditions, house the ablutions area, building plant rooms, and kitchen cool room and pantry. As these facilities do not need windows there is no light spill that could affect optical experiments in the neighbouring building. The lounge and dining facilities along the north and west areas of the building provide outlooks over Prydz Bay and towards the Sørsdal glacier. These rooms take advantage of the northerly sun to greatly enhance natural lighting within the building.

The building also has super-insulated windows with two panes of glass, heat mirrors and three krypton gas-filled voids, providing more insulation in each window than a typical pink-batt. These windows enhance the thermal efficiency of the building. As a result, very large windows could be installed in the lounge area, providing excellent natural lighting, while sweeping views of the landscape enhance expeditioners’ association with the ‘outside’.

Davis Station Leader, Graham Cook, said expeditioners were enjoying their new building.

‘The open plan, large windows, modern furniture and sensational 180° views from both the lounge and the mess in the new building have made it a place where expeditioners want to meet, mix , relax and enjoy their surroundings,’ he said.


Davis LQ project engineer, Australian Antarctic Division

Award criteria

The Engineers Australia Award for Excellence was judged on four criteria:

  • sound engineering practice/principles;
  • originality/ingenuity;
  • adherence to budget and program;
  • extent to which the work has provided a safe and healthy working environment.

The Engineers Australia judges said the building design: ‘offered a largely pre-fabricated solution which was transportable, strong, spatially efficient and offered outstanding thermal properties. A unique panel fixing system enabled the panels to be fixed to the steel framework from the inside only. This system improves panel durability and thermal efficiency, provides easy access for maintenance and eliminates the need for external scaffolding during construction. The building method provided for faster construction times and a subsequent decrease in overall construction costs.’

The building is now in the running for the National Engineers Australia Awards.