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Northeastern Alumnus Jeffrey Montes, Space Architect, Works to Design Housing for Habitation on Mars

AI SpaceFactory Mars Habitat Scale Model Anatomy

Northeastern alumnus Jeffrey Montes, School of Architecture, is a Space Architect at AI SpaceFactory(AI), a New York-based architecture and technology firm. In his role, he considers similar questions to most designers about the relationship between the human experience and its surrounding environment – but must also consider the extreme climates and unique design challenges of Outer Space.

Jeffrey Montes, School of Architecture Alumnus

“Being a Space Architect means that many of the usual assumptions of architectural design no longer apply,” Jeffrey explained. “Space architecture is largely about designing for a remote location where one exists in isolation; designing for an arctic region would be more comparable.”

Jeffrey is leading AI’s effort to develop a Martian habitat, called MARSHA (a catchy abbreviation for MARS Habitat) as well as its associated technologies, which include the materials and techniques required to successfully print the structure. MARSHA, described as a radical new take on Martian habitats, was recently awarded second-place winner of Phase 3: Level 1 of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, and has garnered ample press coverage. Learn more about MARSHA first-hand by watching AI’s incredible video.

As plans and ideas surrounding MARSHA continue to unfold, Jeffrey’s role requires tools that are rarely found in a typical architecture and design firm. That is one of the reasons he has been spending time in Boston lately, working on fabrication at the Autodesk BUILD Space. Right now, his focus is building a machine that would be able to print MARSHA on its own, without human intervention. This would allow a home to be built with local Martian materials before the arrival of human inhabitants.

Jeffrey joined AI last year, after the company saw his own NASA-recognized work. Jeffrey had won the first phase of the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge two years prior, for his co-designed Mars Ice House, an architectural concept for a translucent Martian surface habitat made of Martian water ice. Subsequently, he co-designed Mars Ice Home, an ongoing design collaboration with NASA Langley Research Center that “combines the rigors of first-principles design with a commitment to creating spaces that support human living on a strange but strangely familiar planet.” In fact, next month, materials specified for the ice-wall assembly of the Mars Ice Home will be tested for one year aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and exposed to the Space environment as part of the MISSE 11 mission.

AI immediately recognized the opportunity to collaborate with Jeffrey on Space architecture, a highly specialized subset of the design sector. Since joining the AI team, Jeffrey has been able to explore some fascinating areas of Space architecture with like-minded architects, scientists, and engineers, all while bringing MARSHA one step closer to production.

While Jeffrey’s career and research is now well-developed, he first became interested in Space architecture during his time working toward his Master of Architecture from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University.

“During the middle of my career there, I landed my first choice for a particular studio about Space architecture, which was very conceptual and gave me free reign to explore this area. It was an incredible learning environment; if people had an idea, they just went for it. It was a formative experience for me,” he described. “Before the studio, apart from my fascination with cosmology, what grabbed me were the astronauts in the International Space Station photographing Earth. Astronauts give a stunning perspective on our condition on a planet. It’s storytelling from a different perspective.”

As Space architects, Jeffrey and his colleagues consider everything from climate to weather to communications, and more, ultimately pursuing the notion that people really ought to be living in Space.

Jeffrey Montes, Northeastern Alumnus

“With my chosen field being Space architecture, my approach has to be extremely technically sensitive,” Jeffrey explained. As such, he works closely with engineers and scientists, considering how designs can work, realistically, at a physical level.

“This partnership is full of creativity and inspiration,” Jeffrey added. “I think that the typical narrative given to students about engineers is that they are the realists and architects are the dreamers, but the reality is that excellence in design and excellence in engineering are not mutually exclusive.”

He encourages current Northeastern students to partner with engineers, scientists, and more, and explore even the most niche areas of the architecture field – the opportunities are limitless. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing how Jeffrey’s projects unfold!