Nüwa – The Sustainable City On Mars By ABIBOO

Modular and scalable systems are implemented in cliffs to create a vertical city protected from the Martian atmosphere.

ABIBOO Studio has led the architectural design of a self-sufficient and sustainable city on Mars that can house one million humans. The project is called Nüwa and is part of an exhaustive scientific work for a competition organized by The Mars Society, and fully developed by the SONet network, an international team of scientists and academics, headed by the astrophysicist Guillem Anglada, who led the discovery of exoplanet Proxima-B. Considering the atmospheric conditions, ABIBOO Studio, the team heading the architectural design, chose the side of a cliff on Mars to build a vertical city. The design and construction systems are a result of the planet’s harsh conditions. “If we were to construct the buildings as on Earth, the buildings would tend to explode from the pressure. The solar and gamma radiation on Mars forced us to build spaces that are not directly exposed to the sky”, says Alfredo Muñoz, founder of ABIBOO Studio, an international architectural and urban design firm specialized in large-scale projects.

The design includes five cities, with Nüwa as their capital. Each city accommodates between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Aside from Nüwa, the rest of the cities follow the same urban strategy, such as Abalos City, located in the North Pole to leverage the access to ice, or Marineris City, located in the most extensive canyon of the solar system. The solution is a flexible and scalable model that could be easily applicable in many other Martian surface areas. In these Martian cities’ design, the architects faced defining structures that would guarantee a habitat suitable for humans and other forms of organic life. Working with academics and other members of SONet, the architects came up with solutions to create structures that protect inhabitants from the radiation on Mars, ensure indirect access to sunlight, protect from potential impact from meteorites, and solve the atmospheric pressure difference between the inside and the outside of the buildings. The urban configuration also had to consider the life support systems, such as food, air, and water production.

The city of Nüwa is on the slope of one of the Martian cliffs with abundant water access, located at Tempe Mensa. A steep terrain offers the opportunity to create a vertical city inserted into the rock, protected from radiation and exposed to indirect sunlight. The “Macro-buildings” are excavations inside the rock of the cliff. These constructions, implemented after tunneling, are modular and include residential and work activities, linked together by a three-dimensional network of tunnels. The modules have a tubular shape of 10 meters in diameter and 60 meters long, with two floors. There are three different residential and three work modules, providing a highly flexible and scalable opportunity by recombining the modules as needed. By giving this standardization, the design ensures scalability and reduces complexity, costs, and construction schedules. All modules include green areas and urban gardens, spaces dedicated to art, and condensation areas, called “Snow-domes,” that help dissipate heat and clean the air. The urban gardens are small community parks with animals and bodies of water designed to provide physical well-being. To create an emotional linkage with Earth, the design team has included vast, artificially created natural spaces in Nüwa. They are named “Green-Domes,” and there are two types: those that allow human presence and act as parks, and those that include experimental vegetation in an environment with a purely Martian atmosphere.

The “Macro-buildings” on the cliff are connected by high-speed elevator systems, similar to skyscrapers on Earth. This infrastructure also connects the bottom of the cliff with the top and has intermediate stops at the “sky-lobbies”, that connect the “Macro-buildings” with a separate elevating system. The highest point of the cliff is the Mesa. This vast plain contains the infrastructure dedicated to manufacturing, food production, and energy generation. At the foot of the cliff, large pavilions have been located for social interaction in the Valley. These pavilions have been designed with translucent skin to offer views of the landscapes of Mars. These domes are protected from external radiation by large overflying canopies. The material from the cliff’s excavation is dumped on top of such roofs, protecting from radiation. At the same time, this strategy ensures recyclability even at a large-scale. In the Valley, there are also specific structures to house hospitals, schools and universities, sports and cultural activities, shopping areas, and train stations that communicate with the space shuttle. An artificial mountain created with additional material extracted from the excavations acts as a visual frame for the city. It contains auxiliary energy systems, storage, and parking for rovers and intra-city trucks.

In addition to buildings to live, work, educate, and facilitate social interactions, a human settlement on Mars also requires structures to fulfill the essential functions of air, water, and food production. In Nüwa and its adjacent cities, all the architectural constructions include additional safety aspects to regulate the internal atmospheric pressure and offer refuge zones for emergency cases. Several common spaces act as firebreaks and shelter for citizens until rescue units’ arrival in case of an emergency. Air showers have been placed at each “Macro-building” entrance to clean and sterilize as health protection measures. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also play an essential role in Nüwa’s building standards to help maintain optimal conditions and minimize risks. Crops would be grown in agricultural modules with a CO2-enriched environment, which will not be breathable for humans. As a result, the operational tasks in these facilities will be automated. To increase the crops’ efficiency, the team of experts in astrobiology of SONet opted for a hydroponic system that requires less water and space than other methods based on above-ground crops. The production of algae, cellular-meat, and bacteria for waste processing are also completed in this sector. Farming areas for animals and insects have been located at the Valley, close to communal city areas, as they need a human-like atmosphere to live. The “Green Domes” and the urban gardens inside the cliff are also habitats for some animals. In any case, the space destined for animals is relatively small. The low consumption of meat predicted in the Martian diet is due to the high energy required for livestock farming, which would not be viable or sustainable in the red planet’s conditions. 

Mobility within the city is carried out in a vertical direction along the cliff through high-speed elevators. Additionally, a system of buses and light-trains provides intra-city horizontal transport. A network of train stations connects to the space airport, located at a nearby crater. All transportation within the city is carried out within pressurized spaces through electric vehicles. The mobility between different Martian cities is solved by buses or trains that travel on paved roads. Nüwa and adjacent cities exponentially accommodate their population. After an initial short period of capital investment and supply from Earth, this urban development on Mars maintains and grows by its means and sustainable manner. All the materials required for constructing the city are obtained on Mars by processing Carbon and other minerals. The scientists at SONet and the architects at ABIBOO Studio analyzed the materials needed for Nüwa and how to manufacture and obtain the required system with local resources in a sustainable manner.

Nüwa was a finalist among 175 projects from around the world submitted to this year’s 2020 competition by The Mars Society, an American non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the human exploration and colonization of the planet Mars. The finalists presented their proposals at the 2020 annual convention held between 15 and 18 October, which also featured Elon Musk (Space X), George Whitesides (Virgin Galactic), and Jim Bridenstine (NASA), among others. The team of architects led by ABIBOO Studio worked remotely during the months of work to complete this city’s development on Mars, from distant locations such as the United States, Spain, United Kingdom, and Argentina. The SONet network includes experts from disciplines as diverse as Astrophysics, Architecture, Astrobiology, Space Engineering, Astrogeology, Psychology, and Chemistry, among other fields. The members live across three continents. More than 25 people from multidisciplinary fields have worked to make Nüwa a functional, unique, and feasible city on Mars.


Authors: Guillem Anglada-Escudé, Alfredo Muñoz Herrero, Miquel Sureda, Gisela Detrell, Ignasi Casanova, David Cullen, Miquel Banchs i Piqué, Gonzalo Rojas, Engeland Apostol, Sebastián Rodríguez, Verónica Florido, Philipp Hartlieb, Laia Ribas, Owen Hughes Pearce, David de la Torre.

Contributors: Jordi Miralda Escudé, Rafael Harillo Gomez-Pastrana, Lluis Soler, Paula Betriu, Uygar Atalay, Pau Cardona, Oscar Macia, Eric Fimbinger, Stephanie Hensley, Carlos Sierra, Elena Montero, Robert Myhill, Rory Beard.

Sponsors: ABIBOO Studio, CSIC, UPC, University of Stuttgart, Cranfield University, IEEC, Montan Universitat Loeben, University of Portsmouth

Visuals with courtesy of ABIBOO Studio / SONet



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