February 27, 2024

The third brightest object in the night sky is not a distant planet or solar system, but a building the size of a soccer field. Designed and assembled by five space agencies from 15 countries, the structure represents not only a triumph of engineering but also of politics, an unprecedented international effort on behalf of science. It was built over the course of around 30 different missions starting in 1998 and is still the closest human race has ever made to a habitat in space. The ISS is made up of parts made in Russia, the European Union, Japan, Canada and the United States – with a new capsule currently in the works by a private company that is claiming the next phase of space exploration would like – the ISS is a complex structure of cylinders and passageways made from lightweight materials like kevlar, titanium and aluminum and assembled in space, where it orbits 250 miles above the surface of the earth. Floating in a close orbit, its solar panels fanned out between pinholes of strange light, the building looks more like a deep-sea dweller or a tropical insect than a building in the conventional sense. Originally designed as a laboratory, production facility and service facility, among other things for extraterrestrial exploration, the ISS now serves exclusively as a research laboratory. But the company’s ambition still inspires awe: it remains a powerful symbol of hope for a more peaceful, united future, bright and distant as a star.

Dixon: It can’t really be classified as architecture in the traditional sense, but it is possibly the future of the field. I think we have an overwhelming mid-century crowd, and I find that a bit scary – that we can’t find more contemporary buildings that are revolutionary. Of course we can’t tell if they lasted, but we can tell if they changed the conversation, right?

He shall: Do the rest of you think the International Space Station is considered architecture?

Delavan: It didn’t even cross my mind to think of something like this, but it’s so different from everything else on the list and obviously an important collaboration and important in that it’s not set.

Selldorf: I am completely irrelevant in this conversation.

He shall: What do you mean?

Selldorf: I think very few things are architecture, or alternatively I think everything is architecture.

Dixon: It’s architecture because people live in it for years and – although I’m actually against the space race – I think we should look at the planet from a cooperative perspective first. There is something symbolic about the space station when it comes to getting people to [work together] from foreign nations, and there’s something really fascinating about the fact that it’s made on earth but built in space. It is more significant than almost any other building: it shows the imagination of humanity.

Directed by Betsy Horan and Jamie Sims

Research Editor: Alexis Sottile

Text Editors: Erin Sheehy and Diego Hadis

Production: Nancy Coleman and Kristina Samulewski