Hillary Hut – Scott Base, Antarctica
“Sir Edmund Hillary’s hut at Scott Base, an iconic piece of New Zealands history has been carefully restored with new roofing and cladding”
Location: Scott Base, Ross Island, Antarctica
Product: Smarttray Custom Height Standing seam
Medium: 0.9mm Alumigard
Architect: Cheshire Architects
Main Contractor: Antarctica Heritage Trust
- The hut is an important link to Hillary’s famous tractor trip to the South Pole and was built under his guidance by his team in 1957.
- Under guidance from conservation architect, Pip Cheshire of Cheshire Architects, Hillary’s hut has been painstakingly restored, ensuring the preservation of precious artefacts from the era of early exploration.
- Well known to architects for his knowledge and skill in the secret fix, European style of roofing, Mike Burgess from Architectural Metalformers was the installer of choice for the final stage of the restoration project. Mike can attest to the significance and privilege of being assigned for this assignment at the South Pole.
- As Project Manager, it was agreed that Mike’s time and all services required to complete the task including provision and transport of materials and accessories, manufacturing time and technical input would be donated to the trust for the project.
- From the get-go Mike was fully absorbed in the various design aspects “required to be sympathetic to the AHT brief to match the original building” for a painted, waterproof aluminium roof with new vertical battens painted in the original bright orange.
- “Twentieth century materials and systems should see the roof last 35 years, but it will likely last 50 – 100 years” according to Al Fastier, the programme manager for the trust.
- Says Mike: “Nothing can prepare you for the challenge of working in temperatures that averaged from minus 8 to minus 15 degrees but on some days dropped to minus 30 degrees. I was completely kitted out from head to toes in Antarctic New Zealand gear and this requires excessive layering of the under garments. I would have a base layer, two middle layers and then an outer jacket: depending on the temperature you may wear your ECW (extreme cold weather) gear which is normally reserved for expeditions of the base”.
- “Assisting me on the re-roof was Antarctic Youth Ambassador from the Sir Peter Blake Trust, engineer Chris Ansin. We would check the weather at our daily toolbox meeting and layer our clothing accordingly right down to leggings, footwear, boots, buffer goggles, beanies and gloves”
“There were days when I had to sacrifice being warm to achieve the perfection the job required. As an example, although we had gloves they would often be too restrictive, and I would work with bare hands for a limited amount of time before they started to freeze. Then I would crack hand-warming gel packs and keep them in my pockets to warm up my hands as required”
- Mike seized this once in a lifetime opportunity to immerse himself in the Antarctic experience during his 13 days on Scott Base, six of which were taken up with completing the hut. Twenty-four hours of daylight meant evenings could be spent exploring beyond the base.
- Mike completed the obligatory Antarctic field training (digging a camp in ice, sleeping on the ice in a polar tent, setting up an ice kitchen) and was then able to venture to Observation Hill or the US base at McMurdo Sound, 45 minutes away. On these night excursions he was able to ice climb to explore caves on the Erebus Glacial Tongue, walk the Pressure Ridges to view giant fissures and cracks rising out of the ice shelf, also taking in Castle Hill and Crater Rock.
- It was all about absorbing what life must have been like for those early pioneers. Adding to Mike’s experience, Nigel Watson, chairman of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, accompanied Mike on a tour of all the expedition huts including the original Discovery hut for a privileged view of the historical artefacts – mutton carcases still hanging, biscuits in a remarkable state of preservation – even food still perfectly preserved on the stove top from the day the last inhabitants ventured out into the cold and never returned.
- Congratulations to the Antarctica Heritage Trust for preserving this historic building for future fenerations. Architectural Metalformers are thrilled to be a part of the process.