Halley Bay Base Hut Design Comments


Joe MacDowall, Royal Society IGY Expedition Leader, 1958

Regarding my comments about the design of the new Halley Bay Base Hut. You must understand that my experience of expeditions is strictly limited to Royal Society Base, Halley Bay and I have been somewhat out of touch with what has been going on for many years.

We were very fortunate. The late Sir James Wordie should be given much of the credit for the favourable strategic aspects of the expedition and the establishment of this particular permanent British Base. Indeed it would be appropriate if his name was commemorated somewhere in the base. It is of the utmost importance that the architecture of the huts and their geography encourage the maximum social harmony, particularly in winter. We found this came from a number of factors including the deliberate under-manning coupled with explicit instructions to the base leader that the prime objective was the conduct of the full scientific program, which encouraged us to help each other. This was complemented by a minimal hierarchy. This mutual help and unified social structure would have been quite difficult if the various offices/labs had ben too isolated or widely separated as now seem to be the custom. Close daily proximity develops respect for the skills of all concerned. Every step should be taken to avoid the development of a them and us situation.

I have only seen the detailed plans for one of the huts that was built on top of our hut. It struck me that it was too fragmented with the staff of each of the disciplines relatively self-contained. Now, I do not know whether this is still a feature of the social structure of the base but I do know that in 1959, after the Royal Society party had left, this mutual assistance mode of operation no longer applied to the detriment of the work and harmony. I would hope that in both the staffing of the base and the provision of accommodation, that each discipline did not have too much a fire wall round it. In 1957 and 1958 none of the individual IGY scientific programs could have been completely accomplished without the active daily help of those from the staff of other disciplines or from support staff. I considered this to be a major factor contributing to social harmony and the success of the expedition.

It is unfortunate that the ionospheric section is so remote, due to the relative incompatibility of ionospheric work and radio transmissions. A preferred solution would be to put the radio transmitter a fair way off to keep the main party together and give the radio operators lots of good healthful exercise.

Some of our people arranged small dens or corners for them to pursue their scientific or technical interests and hobbies. That proved to be a very positive factor. They were not particularly private and I do not think that was a bad thing.

It seems to me that nowadays the opportunities for walking from lab to lab and to get out and about round the base may be too few. This would mean that a more ambitious communal exercise facilities might be appropriate.

1 November 2004

If anyone agrees, disagrees, has any comments, please write in and we can have a discussion. - Ed.

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