Doors of McMurdo

As you may have guessed from past posts, I am easily entertained by infrastructure, operations, logistics, and “systems” in general.

One of the most underrated and fascinating parts of McMurdo is its patchwork evolution over the decades.

This is not a master-planned community. Rather, it is a series of organic responses to evolving operational needs.

The buildings reflect this patchwork approach. Each building has its own unique style, based on when it was built, the standards at the time, the parties involved in its construction and operation, and what role it plays in town.

Nothing more clearly illustrates this than the doors to the buildings. I thought I’d share a collection of my favorite doors, to give a sense of what it’s like on a day-to-day basis doing the most basic task around town: entering and exiting buildings.

There are some general themes, and some uniquely Antarctic constraints, but no hard fast rules.

Some decisions make sense. Some seem haphazard. Others reflect the community spirit of this strange place.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite Doors of McMurdo.

Most (but not all!) doors open inward. There is a huge amount of snowdrift during the winter, and if the doors opened outward, they would be impossible to open without a lot of digging. This could be a life safety issue if the building is occupied.

Door 01 Fuel pumphouse. Infrequently accessed, not heated. Modern utilitarian design. Opens inward.

Door 21 Heated warehouse. Occasionally used. Opens inward. Surprisingly normal-looking? Built in the 1960s. The rotating handle is IMO a sub-par choice for the application, because it's hard to grip and operate with thick gloves on.

Door 04 Heated office building. Surprisingly normal-looking? This one has an interior vestibule and another door inside.

Door 11 An inward-opening door, but it's a weird one. The style looks like a door you'd use inside between rooms, but it's to the outside and covered with snow. A strange choice.

Door 12 The same door, from the inside.

Exceptions to the “open inward” guideline are mostly (but not always!) frequently-used doors on prominent buildings, because these are maintained as snow-free. Facilitating rapid exit for lots of people is important.

Door 15 Building 155, from the dorms. Probably the highest-traffic door on station. Opens outward (rare!) to accommodate high traffic. Covered walkway to mitigate snow accumulation.

Door 13 The same door (Building 155 toward the dorms), from the inside. Note the traffic flow signs.

Door 30 Front (galley-side) entrance to Building 155. Opens outward to accommodate high traffic. Elevated above ground level to mitigate snow accumulation.

Door 29 The same door (Building 155 galley-side) from the inside.

A lot of doors on station use an interesting handle. It’s just a long wooden or metal handle on both sides, with a rudimentary latching mechanism. These seem to be found on older buildings, but there’s no real rhyme or reason and plenty of exceptions. They’re very simple mechanically, they’re easy to operate when wearing huge thick gloves, and they don’t freeze up if they go unused.

Door 20 The "Gerbil Gym", from the inside, showing its age. Opens inward.

Door 28 One of the side doors to Building 155. Opens inward.

Door 27 The same door, from the inside.

Door 18 Front door to Medical (Building 142). Opens inward, and this one has a vestibule inside.

Door 08 The door to a work center. A rare double-door with the long metal handle, and the addition of a lock. Opens inward.

Door 10 The same door, from the inside, showing the latch, the double-door release, and the interior lock knob.

Door 19 An infrequently-used door to a storage room, from the inside, showing the long metal handle and locking mechanism. A rare and (IMO) unjustified exception to the "open inward" guideline. I had to dig this one out to use it.

Next up, we have Heavy Duty Doors(tm). These are found on more modern buildings. Picture a commercial walk-in freezer, except it’s to outside (which, for at least part of the year, is technically a freezer). It makes sense – the temperature difference between a -20F winter day and a comfortable 70F office building is substantial. Choosing insulated doors seems prudent for modern construction.

The best examples of this can be found at Crary Lab.

Door 31 The inward-opening, heavy-duty freezer doors to Crary Lab. Note the push bar handle to unlatch the door. These doors are heavy, and it's convenient to be able to push your whole weight against it.

Door 25 Another Crary Lab door. I like this push-to-open design better. The lever travels further, which means less force is required to push it.

Door 03 A close-up of the heavy-duty door latch mechanism on one of the Crary doors.

Door 32 Crary lab door from the inside. Just like opening a commercial freezer, but to the outside.

Door 24 Another Crary freezer door from the inside.

Door 05 A modular office building for some temporary staff. This is a modern design with the heavy-duty insulated door, but it's also another example of an exception to the "inward open" rule. Note the grate to help keep the landing free of snow, but it's still managing to pile up.

There are some doors that combine elements from different types in haphazard ways:

Door 07 An interesting one! This is a fridge door handle, but it's on a regular plywood door. Mysteries abound! Opens inward.

Next up: service doors, for equipment and supplies. These are surprisingly normal looking!

First is a door for heavy equipment. Equipment is sometimes stored indoors, to keep it warm. That way it can be put into service more quickly when needed.

Door 22 A heated warehouse, with a loader parked inside. Just a normal-looking garage door! Not even insulated. This is in an older building.

Next up is loading / service doors. Surprisingly normal, and fulfills the same role it would back home.

Door 26 One of the loading docks to Crary Lab.

Door 02 Service doors into one of the dorms. This goes to the boiler room, so it's possible to get large equipment in and out for service.

Nearing the end of our tour, this one is fun. This is the door to Skua, McMurdo’s volunteer-managed thrift establishment. This is where people donate old items they no longer need, and others can come browse for items they need, all for free. It’s lovingly curated by volunteers, and this ethos extends to the building itself. This door is clearly fabricated entirely onsite.

Just look at this homemade latching mechanism! How neat!

Door 17 Exterior of the door to Skua, showing off the homemade latching mechanism. Opens inward.

Door 16 Interior of the door to Skua.

And finally, my favorite whimsical door on station. Bets on whether there are any keys to this lock actually still on station anywhere?

Door 06 "Break lock in emergency"

I hope others found this as delightful as I did.

Until next time!