How will humans live in space? Though we first visited another celestial body over a generation ago, we still have limited experience living off-planet permanently. Architecture is thus an important field for advancing human space exploration. We spoke with Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger, who specializes in space architecture, to learn more about her unique area of expertise. She is a Senior Lecturer at the Vienna University of Technology’s Institute for Architecture and Design, she has also written two books about space architecture, and she furthermore manages space-craft Architektur, an architectural firm in Austria.
How did you end up specializing in space architecture?
I love the combination of science and fiction. And I always want to know how and why things work the way they do. After having worked in a banking institution, I started to study architecture because I was intrigued by the interrelations between space and humans. I have always looked for ways to understand the underlying mechanics of these interrelations. For my dissertation, I chose to research the relationship between humans and space in the most extreme environment, which is outer space. Many years of research and interviewing astronauts finally resulted in my first book, Architecture for Astronauts.
In the field of space architecture, what is your particular focus and why did you choose to have that focus?
I have specialized in the field of Habitability and Human Factors Design. Habitability and human factors are important determinants for the design of any inhabited building type or human-used object, but this is especially so in outer space. Isolated from the Earth, inhabitants live for a long time in a small and confined environment, completely dependent on mechanical and chemical life support systems. In my architectural and design office, I use a lot of the research I did on habitability and human factors design and apply it to projects for my clients.
What are some emergent topics in space architecture that you would recommend as potential specializations for people who want to enter the field?
There are of course many fields, but first of all, it is important to get to know the special conditions of the environment – the laws of physics and the technological and social aspects of this specific environment. The special ability and skill of architects is always configuring and laying out appropriate spaces for users. Various factors can strongly influence the design process: new construction technologies such as 3D printing; new materials such as materials in situ and recyclable materials; and forms of communication.
However, the newest technology used will only be as good as its application. In the end, all constructed architecture and design is an additional “skin” for human activities. This skin must be flexible in that it must be open for multiple usages. It must be light, in that it is not hindering any actions. And finally it must be supportive, in that it can augment important social processes and diminish social challenges.