61 Years Ago: Building Scott Base, Antarctica

61 years ago, in February 1956, the design of Scott Base, Antarctica commenced. The project was led by Edmund Hillary. A unique film held in the collections of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, called The Design and Construction of Scott Base Antarctica: 357 Days (Ministry of Works, 1957), follows the progress on Scott Base.

The film’s narrative charts the design and build of the base, the testing of its construction materials, the departure of Hillary and his team by ship on 10 December 1956, through to the men’s activities on the base in Antarctica.

The Design and Construction of Scott Base Antarctica: 357 Days (Ministry of Works, 1957)

The designers of Scott Base were faced with significant challenges in conceptualising the buildings – as the film’s narrator informs us:

“nobody had endeavoured to design a permanent home in these circumstances before.”

Careful consideration needed to be devoted to the materials with which to the design the base and the exact site (Ross Island) upon which to situate it – to withstand temperatures of -57 degrees Celsius. The parts needed to be able to withstand being transported on sledges, while 100 knot blizzards were raging.

The base was designed to encompass a kitchen, snow melters, a radio communications room, a laboratory, sleeping rooms, a two-bed hospital, a dog harness room, mess areas, and a dark room.

A trial erection and inspection of the building was carried out at Rongotai, Wellington, before the materials were broken down again and shipped to Antarctica. Striking scenes of the USS Private John Towle powering through icy waters are shown.


Edmund Hillary and his team followed shortly afterwards. They are shown exploring their surroundings and introducing their sled dogs to the Antarctic environment (the dogs were taken with them for field work trips and as a precaution against mechanical failure of their transportation equipment). They wintered over in the new base, before making an expedition to the South Pole – they were the first to reach the South Pole overland since Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition in 1911–12.



– By Ellen Pullar (Digital Programme Developer, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)

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