The third brightest object in the night sky is not a distant planet or solar system, but a football field-sized building. Designed and assembled by five space agencies representing 15 countries, the structure represents a triumph not only of engineering but also of politics. an unprecedented international effort in the name of science. Built largely over nearly 30 separate missions that began in 1998, it remains the closest humankind has ever come to creating a habitat in outer space. Crafted from parts manufactured in Russia, the European Union, Japan, Canada and the United States – with a new capsule currently being made by a private company seeking to qualify for the next phase of space exploration – the ISS is a complex structure. A structure made of lightweight materials such as Kevlar, titanium, and aluminum and made up of cylinders and passages that are assembled in space, where it orbits 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. Solar panels floating in close orbit, fanning between pinholes of alien light, the structure resembles a deep-sea creature or a tropical insect more than a building in the traditional sense. Originally conceived as a laboratory, manufacturing facility, and service facility for extraplanetary exploration, among other uses, the ISS today only serves as a research laboratory. But the enterprise’s sheer ambition remains admirable: it remains a powerful symbol of hope for a future that is more peaceful, united, bright and as distant as a star.
Dixon: You can’t really classify it as architecture in the traditional sense, but it’s probably the future of the field. I think we have an irresistible mid-century-modern audience, and that’s what I find a bit scary – we can’t find more contemporary buildings that are revolutionary. Frankly, we can’t say if they’ll stand the test of time, but we can tell if they’ve changed the conversation, right?
Sales person: Do the rest of you think the International Space Station qualifies as architectural?
Delavan: It didn’t even occur to me to think of such a thing, but it’s very different from anything else on the list, and frankly, it’s a significant collaboration and it’s important that it’s not fixed.
Selldorf: I am completely uninterested in this conversation.
Soller: What do you mean?
Seldorf: I think very few things are architectural, or alternatively I think everything is architectural.
dixon: Architecture because people live in it for years and – although I’m actually totally against the space race – I think we should first look at the planet from a collaborative perspective. There is something symbolic about the space station in terms of getting people there. [work together] There’s something really fascinating about the fact that it’s made from alien nations and also on Earth, but designed in space. More important than almost any other building: It shows the imagination of the human race.
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Research Editor: Alexis Sottile
Copy Editors: Erin Sheehy and Diego Hadis
Producer: Nancy Coleman and Kristina Samulewski