The race to reach the South Pole, undertaken by European adventurers in the early 1900s, was a long and arduous one. In one of the harshest environments on the planet, explorers battled freezing temperatures and hunger in an attempt to be the first to reach the southernmost point of the Earth. The first dwellings erected on the continent, which housed the British explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton and their teams on Ross Island, have been abandoned since the 1940s, and, surrounded by ice, remain time capsules of early exploration. National Geographic took a rare tour of these polar homes, giving us a glimpse of the forgotten interior design mores of early 20th-century explorers.
Recently restored by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust, the prefab timber dwellings, originally shipped from England, are still filled with old newspapers, cans of food, and furniture. A century later, the rough wooden huts have that rustic aesthetic modern companies pay good money for. Scott and Shackleton’s cheap prefab houses could be easily rehabbed into a hip Brooklyn restaurant.
The huts accentuate the sacrifices adventurers made for the sake of achieving glory. The largest hut of its time, Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, measured 25 feet by 55 feet, and housed upward of 33 men, designed with a plethora of lab benches and tables for scientific studies in biology, meteorology, and geology, spaces for examining charts, a darkroom, plus the necessary cooking and dining spaces. These were houses designed for men more concerned with their scientific work than their beds (wooden cots lined with animal skins). Still, in comparison with the harsh outdoor world in one of the driest, coldest, windiest parts of the planet, this was luxury.