Architecture Students Design Hotels For Outer Space

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: October 28, 1997 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- What will hotels be like in the year 2045? How about hotels in outer space?

Two teams of students in the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning explored the possibilities as they each designed a "Hotel of the Future" in a Student Design Competition conducted by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).

The UB projects were among 13 finalists named in the competition, which involved 561 students from 99 colleges and universities worldwide.

Competitors were encouraged to select remote and unusual locations for their hotel. Options included: the middle of a city, in a remote corner of the Earth, underground, underwater, on top of water or in outer space.

Designers were required to use their imaginations to come up with a design that would respect its site and surrounding culture, incorporate local materials and landscape, satisfy the client's program and delight its guests -- not an easy task, especially when the site is outer space.

The UB teams proposed a modular hotel in orbit 200-250 miles above the planet and a hotel constructed in the interior of a "captured" asteroid.

Advising the students was Gary Scott Danford, associate professor of environmental and organizational psychology in the UB Department of Architecture, who assigned the project as part of a one-credit course on architectural programming in Spring 1996.

"I am convinced that beyond the novelty of the site (outer space), what made these projects finalists was the student inquiry into and analysis of technical requirements of the users, guests, staff and construction workers in a zero-gravity environment, all of which strongly influenced their subsequent architectural designs.

"This project forced the students to recognize that all traditional architectural forms were irrelevant and to start from scratch without assumptions," Danford added. "The students also learned the importance of communicating, documenting and justifying their design decisions."

Students were allowed to form their own teams and worked on the project outside of class three hours a week for five weeks.

According to Danford, his students' achievement is particularly notable because they only had a fraction of the time their competitors had. "Other students typically took an entire semester, or 15 weeks in a 6-7 credit studio, to do this project. My students had five weeks in a one-credit course," noted Danford.

He also pointed out that other advisors were typically architects rather than environmental psychologists.

Although Danford is not an architect, in 1983 and 1984 he was a faculty fellow at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he examined long-term habitation of space and the psycho-social factors that influence the design of a space station. His knowledge in this area helped the students with the technical content of their projects.

"My role," he said, "was primarily to make sure that the students acknowledged the difficulty of construction in zero gravity and the isolated and hostile environment of outer space, as well as the dramatic changes that occur (in zero gravity) in the human body, particularly body posture, all of which pose severe challenges to conventional architectural design and construction techniques."

The entries were judged on quality of design, construction, presentation and guest experience.

"Gateway Resort 2045" was the name of the winning design created by a UB team consisting of Chris Martell (Portland, Maine), Vincent Poon (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Willer Yu (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Anna Beresniewicz (Webster, N.Y.), Shantina Moore (Niagara Falls, N.Y.) and Elisabette Moreira (Asuncion, Paraguay). The hotel's location: Lower Earth Orbit inside the Van Allen Belt approximately 28.5 degrees from the equator and "flying" at a height of 200-250 miles above sea level.

The group incorporated the use of modules to ensure safety in the event of a pressure breach, as well as to ease of construction, servicing and reconfiguring. They also altered the size and shape of individual rooms and other areas to accommodate new ways of sitting, eating and sleeping.

Advanced computer systems with user-friendly voice-recognition peripherals were included to monitor guests' physical well-being, act as a translating device for the multi-cultured guests and offer means of communication with Earth.

The second winning UB design -- in which the hotel was constructed in an asteroid -- was called "Toutatis 4179." It was the brainchild of Jason Benedict (East Syracuse, N.Y.), Karen Chan (Fanling, Hong Kong), Darren Hook (Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.), Melissa Morgano (Angola, N.Y.) and Scott Nunemaker (Rochester, N.Y.).

What made the project difficult, according to Danford, was the need to "capture" a passing asteroid and then excavate the interior to create habitable space -- in a zero-gravity environment.

The design involved solar-power stations placed in orbit around Earth to collect energy from the sun and transfer it to Toutatis through microwaves and energy converters. The students chose to inhabit an asteroid because, according to their statement, the solid mass provided protection for the guests and because "an asteroid in pure form represents all that is natural relevant to its environment and only such a spectacle could allow freedom and exploration."

Toutatis also was equipped with a museum displaying technological advances in space exploration, as well as an escape pod in case of the need for evacuation.

Competition sponsors were ACSA, Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, AT&T, Fluor Daniel, Mastercard International, Microsoft and PT Dharmala Intiland.