© UKAHT

Global waterproofing, roofing and insulation manufacturer IKO PLC was approached by architects advising the Antarctica Heritage Trust (AHT) on the conservation of Base Y on Horseshoe Island. IKO had provided a number of its products for the 2015 project to refurbish ‘Scott’s Hut’, the base for the tragic attempt to be the first to the South Pole. Following the success of that refurbishment IKO was asked to recommend and supply the materials most suitable for the latest building to be repaired as part of this complex Antarctic conservation programme.

Base Y is an inactive but relatively unaltered and completely equipped British Antarctic research station which was occupied March 1955 to August 1960. The project to repair and restore it is part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust plan to preserve various sites in Antarctica which are judged to be of historic significance. Base Y is designated as Historic Site No. 63 – a World Heritage Site, governed by the Antarctic treaty. Access, materials and work practices are closely regulated. All materials must be transported to the site by hand – no mechanical transport is allowed, and even dogs which were used when the base was operational are banned.

© UKAHT

© UKAHT

IKO’s Technical Department had comprehensive discussions with London-based Kennedy O’Callaghan Architects who are overseeing the project. This involved examining the plans and products used in the construction of the pre-fabricated structure back in the 1950s, then identifying the best modern product to match the original roofing. ‘The use of materials which are historically correct and as close to the originals as possible is of upmost importance’ says Janie Price, Partner at Kennedy O’Callaghan. ‘Their ability to perform in the Antarctic, withstanding winds of 90-150 mph and a temperature range from -10°C to +3°C is crucial.’

With this in mind IKO has supplied – 25 rolls of IKO Challenger SBS with a sand finish to match the originally installed Ruberoid products as closely as possible (the Ruberoid brand now owned by IKO). The membrane has a polyester base for toughness and durability and an SBS-modified bitumen coating. IKOpro High Performance Roofing Felt Adhesive products have also been supplied to bond the membrane to the roof to avoid hot work installation, as specified.

The first part of the project involved the AHT sending a team to Horseshoe Island in January 2017 to carry out temporary repairs and gather samples. This confirmed the condition of the existing materials. The original roof on the main hut had held up well because there had been some maintenance done over the years, but in the past no-one appreciated the significance of the outbuildings, so they had suffered badly, with holes and leaks exposing them to the worst of the Antarctic weather.

Once on site, the team made a temporary repair using IKOpro Roofing Felt Adhesive and IKO Challenger SBS. This was applied over the original Ruberoid roof. Samples of the original were then collected for analysis. The work was carried out in the Antarctic spring, over a 4 week period. But in order to have 4 weeks on site, the workers have to schedule the work within a 12 week window, to allow for transportation of materials and weather delays.

The next part of the process is to identify the best modern materials to complete a fuller conservation project in the future. It’s likely the original roof contained asbestos, so the AHT has to decide whether to try to remove it (with all the risks of contamination that involves), or just cover it up. For the time being it is covered – the permanent repair will be done in the 2018-19 season – and IKO experts are working on identifying the closest and most efficient modern product to complete the project. Once the huts are restored they are open to visitors, who can call in as part of a cruise package. Access is strictly limited to day trips only as in the past some people who were given permission to camp overnight were using wood from the huts to make fires, and even opening the provisions left in the hut in the 1950s!

IKO UK Group Managing Director Andy Williamson comments: ‘The survival of IKO’s Ruberoid material in the harshest environment on the planet for over a century underlines the durability of bitumen membranes. Following the successful completion of the Scott’s Hut project, we are delighted to be helping with this important preservation project on Horseshoe Island.’

You can follow the story of Antarctic restoration at www.ukaht.org

© Derek Searle