From a remote town where its citizens all live in one single building, to an isolated vault that could save humanity from an apocalypse, today we’ll take a look at some of the most remote and extreme buildings in the world. How did they build Europe’s tallest structure at a height of over 3,500 meters and why can this research station in Antarctica walk? Let’s find out, and we start with Number 5: A whole Town Under One Roof Popularized in the internet and mainstream media as the “town under one roof”, the small town of Whittier in Alaska isn’t exactly the most remote location on this list, however living there might feel like it.
Around 90 kilometers from Anchorage, the state’s most populous city, Whittier is a city unlike any other. In the middle of this small Alaskan seaside town lies a very peculiar yet interesting building, the so-called Begich Towers. The city of Whittier is home to 270 people and most of them live in this single 14-storey building. So, how exactly did almost all of the people in this small Alaskan town find themselves living under the same roof? And what can you do there? The story of the Begich Towers begins in 1953 at the height of the Cold War. Because of Alaska’s proximity to Russia, military installations and bases were built in the region. And in Whittier this building was constructed and designed to house the US Army together with their families. It was used by the military up until the turn of the 60s when Whittier became incorporated and much of its land was acquired by the Alaska Railroad Corporation. As most of the land around the city was owned by the railroad company, people looking to move in the city or purchase property simply didn’t have the opportunity to do so. But when the military left, the building was repurposed as housing units for the city’s residents. Over the past decades, Whittier’s population has grown and shrunk around this one central building. Even the city’s services such as the post office, police station, and school are all located inside the building. In addition, there’s also a church, convenience store, laundromat, clinic, and even a bed and breakfast service on the top two floors. One resident even pointed out that you can pretty much last an entire year, or maybe even longer, without leaving the building. But now let’s get to a slightly more remote place. Number 4: The Loneliest House in the World Every few years, a picture of a small home in the middle of nowhere goes viral. The home looks deserted with no other notable development in sight. It is said to be the most isolated home in the world and has been subject to many crazy theories. Some think it is a haunted house occupied by aliens while another more popular theory is that the house was built by a billionaire who plans to use it as an escape in case of a Zombie Apocalypse. The reality however, is much less glamorous. The picture comes from a small island in the south of Iceland called Ellidaey. Despite the famous shots of a secluded house, the island itself isn’t as remote. It is one of Iceland’s famous Westman Islands that lie only 8 kilometers away from the coast. Ellidaey Island can be visited on a boat tour from the nearby island of Heimaey. Three hundred years ago, the island was inhabited by 5 families who survived through fishing and hunting. The last of these families left the island in the 1930s in search of better opportunities at which point it became a popular destination among hunting groups who made the trip to hunt the native Nordic birds called puffins. This is when the supposed apocalypse home was built. The remote home is in fact a hunting lodge built in 1953 by the Ellidaey Hunting Association to make hunting trips easier in the area. So contrary to what it first looks like, there are in fact other much more remote buildings located in trickier terrains, like the next project on this list.
Number 3: A Breathtaking Observatory at “The Top of Europe” The Swiss Alps have some of the most scenic views in the world. The whole region is a collection of snowy glaciers and some of the most complex and stunning hiking trails. High up in these snow-covered mountains is an astronomical observatory that can only be accessed by rail. Built at a height of 3571 meters, the Sphinx Observatory is the highest man-made structure in Europe. It was completed in 1937 and its construction was made possible by completion of an impressive railway project 25 years earlier. The Jungfrau Railway project started in 1896 with the ambition to make it the highest railway project in Europe. A difficult Alpine Terrain and the limited technology of the time meant that it took 16 years to complete the project. More than 30 workers lost their lives while blasting tunnels in this high-altitude terrain. The final station of the Jungfrau Railway ends at the Jungfraujoch which is also referred to as “The Top of Europe”. It is 3454 meters high and from this station the materials for the Sphinx Observatory were transported to the construction site. Since its completion, the Sphinx has become one of the most popular research stations with research spanning multiple fields from meteorology to Astronomy. In addition, it is also one of the top tourist destinations in Europe with the building’s viewing platforms providing spectacular views of the Alps ranging as far as Italy and Germany. While it is high up in the mountains with only one way of reaching it, the Sphinx is still some way behind some of the truly remote buildings on Earth like the ones built on the North and South Poles. Number 2: The “Doomsday Vault” of Norway Around 1300 kilometers from the North Pole, in the snowy mountains of Northern Norway, lies this entrance in the middle of nowhere. And this remoteness is actually the reason it was built there. No tectonic activity, colder temperatures, and isolation from the global conflicts make it the perfect location. But what exactly is it for? At a price point of 9 million dollars, the Norwegian government has built a large bunker that stores seed samples, ensuring their survival in case of a global disaster. It is located just one kilometer away from the Svalbard Airport which is the furthest commercial airport on the North Pole. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was built in 2008 and so far it stores more than 900,000 seed varieties from gene banks around the world. Some of these seed types are not even planted in agriculture. However, they’ll provide the DNA to develop new similar strains. The Seed Vault’s entrance leads to a concrete tunnel that goes 130 meters deep into the mountain. At the end of this tunnel lies a chamber that gives way to 3 vaults where seeds can be stored. Temperature inside the vaults is maintained below -18 degree centigrade which makes seed metabolism slower, ensuring that the seeds can survive over 1000 years. Even in case of an electric failure, or climate disaster on the outside, the ice-covered mountain will keep the temperature low and protect the seeds for the next centuries. Next, we head to an even more remote place that you can only be reached during a 3-month summer window. We go from the North Pole to the South Pole to the so called Walking Research Station Antarctica has the world’s most extreme climate. Temperatures can drop to as low as -40°C in winters, with sustained wind speeds reaching 200 kilometers per hour. It has the highest elevation of all continents thanks to a 2500 meter thick ice sheet and it’s covered in darkness for almost one-third of the year.
So naturally the continent has no native population, however, it is home to 70 research stations. One of the most important of these research stations has been operated by the British Antarctic Survey since 1957 called the Halley Research Station. The Halley Research Station is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf, a floating platform of ice 150 meters thick and situated by the Antarctic coast in the Weddell Sea. Being on top of an ice shelf and not continental Antarctica itself, the Halley Research Station’s exact location is always slightly moving towards the ocean. Since the start of operations, four of the five iterations of the Halley Research Station have all been buried under the snow and become unusable.
The fifth one solved the problem of snow, because it was built on a steel frame that was raised every year. However, there was another problem. Once these stations were built, they were there to stay. And the shifting of the ice sheet meant that eventually it got too close to the break-off edge of the ice. So in 2010, the quest for the world’s first fully relocatable polar research station began. Their plan was to build the Halley VI research base on giant skis so that it can be towed across the ice when required. This ability to move is essential to ensure the longevity of not just the station, but also the presence of the British Antarctic Survey in this climate research sensitive zone. There are eight main modules that make up the station. One large red bubble in the center which acts as a two-story hub for socializing while the surrounding seven blue sections are a mix of accommodations, offices and labs. These modules were constructed more than 5000 kilometers away in South Africa and then shipped to the Halley base. Once they arrived in Antarctica, the pieces were put together over three different summer seasons and the research station finally became operational in 2013. The research station has already been relocated once in 2017 when operational teams spent four months moving it 23 kilometers away from its previous location. The move was done after scientists found signs of movement from a dormant ice chasm that could potentially cut the station off from the rest of the ice shelf. Today, the Halley VI Research Base still stands on top of the Brunt Ice Shelf serving as a home for British and international researchers more than 14,000 kilometers away from the British Isles. The Walking Research Station is responsible for critical research surrounding climate, atmospheric, and space weather research that cannot be done anywhere else in the world. Would you take the long trip to travel to one of these places? And which one would you go to? If you want to learn more about places far away from the rest of the world, you can check out our Most Isolated Places on Earth Video.