Redwood Forest—a Sustainable City on Mars - By : Hanen Hattab,

Redwood Forest—a Sustainable City on Mars

Hanen Hattab
Hanen Hattab Author profile
Hanen Hattab is a PhD student in Semiology at UQAM. Her research focuses on subversive and countercultural arts and design practices such as artistic vandalism, sabotage and cultural diversions in illustration, graphic arts and sculpture.


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Architectural exploration groups have their eyes on Mars―from Elon Musk’s astronomical projects to university research groups. Launched in 2016, Mars City Design is an initiative of architect and filmmaker Vera Mulyani, in Silicon Beach, Los Angeles, to visualize how to inhabit the Red Planet.

It is an international competition open to artists, designers and scientists. The ideas shared on this platform implement the latest in architectural and urban construction and design technologies, and space research discoveries. The winning team in the architecture category of the 2017 edition set the bar very high and gave Mars a decidedly earth-like look.

Being 95% carbon dioxide, the air is unbreathable on Mars, and the climate rivals terrestrial polar conditions, with an average temperature of approximately -65oC. Yet the winning team decided to give its architectural design an open-space concept. What solutions has this team found to protect space colonists from cosmic radiation and deadly ultraviolet radiation?

Redwood Forest

The project is called “Redwood Forest”. It was developed by a group of nine students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), co-led by researcher Valentina Sumini, from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department (MIT), and Caitlin Mueller, assistant professor in the Building Technology Program (MIT).

The team created a small city that could house ten thousand inhabitants. It was a multidisciplinary approach that brought together skills in aeronautics, astronautics, civil and environmental engineering, architecture, and design. In order to meet Mars City Design’s main challenge—to create a sustainable city—the project took advantage of the planet’s geoclimatic conditions.

An Underground City

The habitats visualized by the team will grow like mushrooms on the surface of the planet. Indeed, the Redwood Forest’s urban structure will consist of geodesic domes that can each shelter fifty people. Like a tree, each unit will have an underground part made up of connecting tunnels linking the spheres together. Private spaces will be located in the underground part, protecting against cold, radiation, micrometeorites and other hostile surface conditions. Transport will be provided by electric vehicles that will circulate in the underground network on several levels. The spheres will be wooded, acting as the lungs of the city and as an open public area.

Production Resources

The city mimics a forest both physically and functionally, using local Martian resources such as ice, water, regolith, soil and sunshine to create life. This idea of genesis also symbolizes the potential for growth on other planets as nature will spread in the Martian landscape. The habitat design was created using a computational form-finding program developed by the team. This design is parametric, which means that each habitat will have a unique structure.

The domes thus form a diversified forest  composed of unique urban spaces. Water transported to the city will be kept in flexible tanks inside the domes, to be used on hydroponic farms that will provide fresh fish and vegetables. Solar panels will be installed on the surface. The produced energy will be used to separate stored water for fuel and oxygen production, and also to supply the hydrogen cells needed for the vehicles.  Backup energy will also be stored to mitigate dust storms.

According to the project team, the ideas used in Redwood Forest can also inspire urban solutions for sustainable cities on our Blue Planet.

The team members are: Samuel Wald, Matthew Moraguez, Alejandro Trujillo, Alpha Arsano, Kam-Ming, Mark Tam, Meghan Maupin, John Stillman and Zoe Lallas.

Participation in this annual competition is done via the online platform People and groups invited to apply are designers and students in the fields of engineering, robotics, architecture and urban design. The 2018 competition is entitled “Mars Sample Un(Return)—Imagine we are in the year 2043.” Designers in the fields of sport, health and fashion were invited. Unfortunately, registrations are already closed. The results will be announced at the end of August 2018.

Hanen Hattab

Author's profile

Hanen Hattab is a PhD student in Semiology at UQAM. Her research focuses on subversive and countercultural arts and design practices such as artistic vandalism, sabotage and cultural diversions in illustration, graphic arts and sculpture.

Author profile

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