Architect proposes Mars Utopia towers to terraform red planet into breathable environment

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Spanish architect Alberto Villanueva's Mars Utopia concept would see the planet transformed into an inhabitable environment using towers formed by bacteria (+ slideshow).

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

Villanueva, who works at Idea Architecture Office, created the project while completing a masters in Environment Design at London's Ravensbourne College.



"As an architect I am worried about the overpopulation issue," he told Dezeen. "I was studying how the most populated cities around the world are growing non-stop."

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

"At the same time I realised that at least 30 per cent of territories are in extreme environments and I wanted to understand how, with my responsibility as an architect, I could think in new ways to build in these areas," he added.

Choosing Mars as "the hardest scene", Villanueva created a concept that would use the planet's newly discovered frozen water and soil as building materials.

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

3D printers could be sent to selected craters that hold water beneath the surface, where they would build structures using Mars' soil as a material. These could then collect energy from electromagnetic fields in the surrounding areas to melt the crater ice.

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

Over a period of six months the towers would disintegrate, and be replaced by new bio-luminescent structures that could be printed using fungi and bacteria feeding off the newly melted water.

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

These towers would then convert the planet's carbon dioxide into oxygen. The architect estimates that enough will have accumulated after two months to "form and give consistency to the small atmospheric layer of the planet."

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

After this period, Villaneuva believes there will be enough oxygen for future inhabitants to breathe on the planet.



"In this case the building as an organic element fades after about five years, deleting any footprint on the planet and maintaining a living atmosphere," he said.

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

"It will be the right time to create a new architecture to colonise," he added. "As you can see the project offers an alternative to the 'bombs' of Elon Musk, the buildings on the surface or construction of domes with controlled environments."

The architect also suggests that Hawaii or Australia could be used as test locations for the Mars Utopia concept.

Mars Utopia by Alberto Villanueva Galindo

Other architects proposed ways to form homes on the planet through NASA's 3D Printed Habitat challenge. A shortlist of 30 designs was selected, with Clouds AO and SEArch's shark fin-shaped Ice House winning first place.

Previously, Foster + Partners unveiled designs for a NASA Mars settlement that could be 3D printed by a team of semi-autonomous robots, and a team of scientists and architects have imagined a bubble-shaped habitat for the red planet.

  • Lorum-Ipsum

    I can’t imagine an atmosphere processing plant ever looking as elegant as that. You’ve seen Aliens, right?

  • Owens

    Why are they so obsessed with their U logo that it has to be in every picture?

    • Canario

      Because it’s probably taken from the press release. As the article says it is a project for a master’s project. Not a real one with money behind it and a team developing. Just enjoy the ideas and let’s dream. :)

  • James

    It’s a nice idea, but I thought the underlying problem is that there’s not a strong magnetosphere on Mars and any atmosphere would be depleted by the effects of the solar wind?

    • Canario

      You are totally right James. That is one of the concerns of the project. The tensions between the disintegration because the solar wind and the generation of the new atmosphere. But there are physical studies that point out that this is possible.

      • Stefan495

        I have an answer to Mars. In order to completely restore the atmosphere, restore the seas and bring life, NASA needs to build a magnetic shield in the orbit of Mars. This is so easily done by placing a large coil piece together.

        It should be powered by solar energy with a UV screen in front of it to catch ultraviolet rays as well. If that is too hard make satellite-sized magnet-field-generating coils in high Mars orbit. NASA, you need to do this immediately or you mission could fail. Let’s make this reality.

        My name is Stefan Bartolik and every life has a purpose. If this is mine telling all of you today to spread the idea it will be a 100% success.

  • Marine Layolle

    Dezeen has lost all the respect and credibility I had thanks to this project…

  • Londrell

    I have an idea. Humans, stay the hell away from Mars.

  • K

    Being an architect myself I think that the problem here is in the reason for making such a project. I don’t want to be rude, but if he studied the non-stop growing cities and the solution he came up was moving people to Mars, well, chances are he didn’t study enough or (as always these days) he just wanted to make an utopian project for the sake of making it and then he tried to give it some sort of sense.

    The idea of terraforming a planet is not new, nor is using some kind of energy to melt the ice found under the surface – not even using 3D printers to do the job. But the real problems here are not even thought, let alone solved:

    1. Socially. How one would decide who is going? Sending people to a planet is expensive, so only wealthy people would go? Maybe just 1% of the population could have the money to make such a “trip”, even if they would you are not going to solve anything.

    2. Time. With current technology it will take something like seven months to reach Mars, if you take off at the right moment (considering the orbit of the two planets). The window of time is very short, people have to be trained, food and water have to be stored. To make it doable we will be able to send a maximum of 20/50/100 people? How long would it take to free us from over-population?

    3. The Test. How can you test it on Earth? It’s not a rover moving on a planet, it’s a tower that will be built by a 3D printer on a planet with different gravity, that will impact on the atmosphere (that we can’t recreate on such scale).

    4. Time, again. Two months to have a thin layer of oxygen? Terraforming is not a matter of month, it’s a matter of centuries… or are the people at NASA all wrong?

    • Jordan

      Very well said. Although I like the idea of going to Mars, building a utopian city or building is not needed, not at least until scientists can actually assess the planet first.

      There is another problem as well. As James says above, there’s not a strong magnetosphere on Mars and any atmosphere would be depleted by the effects of the solar wind.

      • Canario

        Jordan, I understand the idea of building a city is not contemplated in the project. The project wants to generate an atmosphere and the architect explains that he doesn’t want to generate a city, only prepare the place. After a long time the towers (as a living organisms) will disintegrate avoiding any footprint.

      • ponch

        Would a large umbrella mitigate the problems of the solar wind?

    • Canario

      Maybe if you just asked instead of criticising you would realise that most of the questions you are pointing out are contemplated on the project. Don’t forget this is a short article trying to inform you about the ideas that are around.

      Nobody is telling NASA that it is wrong about the time and the oxygen. But if this project has been published in different important publications it is giving valuable information to develop new systems.;)

      • K

        As I said, I didn’t mean to be rude and I sincerely apologise if I offended someone. My critique was intended as a way to provoke a debate on the topic.

        I very much like these kind of utopian projects. What I like less is when they are made because there is a hype around the topic and the reasons for making such projects are not well thought out.

        I took some time to search on other websites, I’ve seen the video on Vimeo and a Spanish interview. Being Italian I think I got something out of that. I still think that as a project is interesting, but the reasons behind it are so made up that the project itself loses consistency.

        Just to name a few: if the basic idea is give an answer to overpopulation, simply terraforming a planet is not an answer to that particular question. The way we eventually migrate could be, but I didn’t find anything about it in this project (I think he talks about the Mars-One program in the interview I found online, but that again is not an answer to this specific question).

        As James and Jordan pointed out, there is the weak magnetosphere (the possible reason why Mars have lost its atmosphere in the first place). No protection from the Sun’s wind and its radiation would also possibly kill the mycelium and bacteria?

        Then, why Mars? Why not the Moon? Or one of the satellites of both Jupiter and Saturn? Those have extreme conditions too and possibly water, some already have a thin layer of atmosphere.

        And I’m sorry but the fact of being published anywhere, to me, doesn’t add any value. That’s called advertising, not progress. :)

        As a project on its own, again, it interests me a lot, and I hope they will possibly find answer to all the possible questions and solutions to all the possible problems, but as you said, it’s a short article that only shows few nice images, and a very unrefined idea.

        Maybe they already have those answers. But let’s keep dreaming (with a little more consistency next time?)!

  • agreek

    This amazing! I love the project, well done!

  • Constantin Berg

    In my personal opinion, this project if you think about science is not achievable. If it is not possible and we are speaking about imaginary and fictitious solutions, why pick Mars?

    Why are we trying to see this as a solution to overpopulation? Let’s say in the universe far far away someone wants to use what Terrans invented to change a planet’s atmosphere.

    If we considered it as a dreamy project, why should we use bacteria? I am really interested to see even one study about this. If you see only the design part I am curious how someone can manipulate the bacteria in order to form the desired shape. That is just me and my logic. If you see it overall it is a cute project. Well done.