It’s more and more likely humans will one day live on the moon. But our future lunar housing doesn’t need to look like boxy space stations or underground caves. Instead, we can pull from some novel aesthetics to put some pizazz and flair into designing those kinds of homes.

People from around the world imagined what a lunar colony for living, working, and researching would look like and work for Eleven Magazine’s Moontopia competition — a contest focused on space architecture on the moon. With increased interest among many parties like Boeing and SpaceX to send people to other worlds and even start extraterrestrial colonies, understanding the design and engineering of buildings on other planets is becoming a more critical field of study.

Check out some of the winners of the Moontopia competition.

Winner: Testlab

by Monika Lipinska, Laura Nadine Olivier, and Inci Lize Ogun

Testlab is based on the Russian Babushka Doll, a wooden doll you may have played with as a child that has smaller wooden dolls nested inside. It’s designed to evolve as the moon’s population grows. Testlab starts as a singular settlement inhabited by astronauts. As more people start populating the moon, the architecture can grow and construct itself through 3D printed self-assembly. Inside the settlement, there are “Pods”, which include private bedrooms, communal rooms, the greenhouse, and experimental labs and machinery for sustaining life on the moon.

Testlab won the Moontopia competition.  Testlab's design is based on the Russian Babushka doll and can evolve as the Moon's population grows.

To protect the settlement, Testlab has an outer membrane based on a simple origami pattern and made of programmed carbon fiber, which can shape itself based on pressure variation from solar winds. The membrane can be 3D printed and self-assembled on site. Not only does it protect the site, it also produces water and oxygen by capturing and storing the hydrogen atoms of solar winds and then converting them.

“When we were in the concept phase of our project, we decided that it needed to be multi-layered,” Olivier tells Inverse. “Meaning, that growing plants on the moon and establishing a settlement would not be enough – it had to be autonomous. Therefore, the most natural answer was to create something that would allow sustaining life on the moon.”


by Sergio Bianchi, Jonghak Kim, Simone Fracasso, and Alejandro Jorge Velazco Ramirez

This design calls for an infrastructure to be built and maintained in lunar orbit, rather than the moon’s surface, to preserve the moon as much as possible and respect its original state. Humans can instead take a space elevator that links a man-made space-city in the lunar orbit to the moon.

MOMENTUM VIRIUM in L1 was the runner-up. Unlike other designs, the habitat is placed in the Moon's orbit.

The habitat is surrounded by a set of rings, which use the gyroscopic effect to rotate. These rings are made of aluminium and titanium and are connected to the habitats with magnetic suspensions. To provide energy, the habitat uses a solar cell. This habitat can hold up an initial population of 100,000 people that can increase with time.

“The concept came quite easily. The idea was to act in the most respectful way towards the moon — don’t mess with it,” Bianchi tells Inverse. “Creating a livable space on the surface of the moon would require substantial amount of drastic changes.”

People’s Choice: Modulpia

by Alessandro Giorgi, Cai Feng, Siyuan Pan, and Esteban Analuiza

Modulpia is based on the Weaire-Phelan structure, which looks like geometric bubbles connected together. It uses this structure because it’s highly repetitive and constructible. The foam Modulpia is made of consists of dodecahedrons (made of 12 pentagons) and tetradecahedrons (made of two hexagons and 12 pentagons). To accommodate more people, Modulpia can grow organically over time and provide its own food and plants, as well as generate drinking water from gray water. It also has a multi-layer skin to protect from radiation and a double vacuum layer for thermal insulation.

Modulpia won the People's Choice award. The design is based on the Weaire-Phelan structure, and it can grow organically over time.

When people first start settling near the Shackleton crater, a factory will start producing the first modules of Modulpia. These first modules will be installed below the ground, where research laboratories and dwellings will be built. Living underground will also protect residents from meteorites. As research advances, people can start building above the ground.

Photos via Monika Lipinska, Laura Nadine Olivier, and Inci Lize Ogun, Sergio Bianchi, Jonghak Kim, Simone Fracasso, and Alejandro Jorge Velazco Ramirez, Alessandro Giorgi, Cai Feng, Siyuan Pan, and Esteban Analuiza, Monika Lipinska, Laura Nadine Olivier and Inci Lize Ogun