In the South Gobi Desert of Mongolia, a building created by Margot Krasojevic Architects for SIAC is exploring dormant monolithic architecture in the sand dunes. The Sand Drift Proving Ground responds to the local climate by merging with its environment. The design looks like materials being blown on site by the desert winds. It will rise out of the landscape when in use and buried under snow and sand when lying dormant.

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A sandy area with a white structure from it

This buried desert building activates with motion. The building is covered or revealed by the shifting sands where it sits low in the sedimentary bedrock. This is a year-round proving ground for off-road vehicle testing, including viewing tunnels, flooded zones and various surface and ground gradients to test the limits of vehicles.

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A swooshy structure shot from multiple angles

Additionally, the test track design, sponsored by SIAC cars, features three zones: torsional obstacles, twist tracks and surface response. There are also skid slopes for endurance, viewing and facilities and artificial hydroplane flooded and frozen zones. The building is an artificial landscape in itself. By simulating environments using solar and piezoelectric engineering, it mimics various driving conditions. Road surfaces test how vehicles will perform on snow, ice and on wet and dry asphalt.

A white pathway leading to a structure amidst sand

The primary structure of the building is an extruded barrel vault that is partially buried in the desert rockbed. It keeps the subterranean environment cooler than the air above. The site’s climate changes daily, as the Mongolian desert varies from -30 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius. The building acts as a barometer to adapt and create the right testing environments for the facility. The facility uses motion sensors to respond to vehicle motion. Every vehicle here is fitted with sensors to activate different areas of the track and proving ground and each car reanimates the building.

A black car driving on a white pathway surrounded by a mountain landscape

Meanwhile, the hydroplane area uses a nearby reservoir and a refrigeration system for polished ice surfaces. Solar generators cool the ice, with a maximum capacity of 50 kilowatt. Viewing galleries line the tunnels and run below the tracks so cars can be viewed in 3D. Cameras trace vehicle movements.

A white landscape with a structure that almost looks hidden in the landscape

Moreover, the looped road/surface can hydraulically expand to slide into the landscape, increasing the terrain to two kilometers. Surfaces include potholes, deep sand pits, gravel, rumble strips, sine waves, undulating asphalt and cobblestoned road sections. These track sections are supported hydraulically to alter the road gradient depending on testing needs.

Diagram renderings of the structure and its multiple layers

The designer of this building, Margot Krasojevic, won the 2018 LEAF Award for Best Future Building – Under Construction and Drawing Board for her Self-Excavation Hurricane House in Louisiana. She was nominated for the Energy Globe awards 2020. Krasojevic won GOLD WAN awards in 2020 and 2021, Belgrade design week, recyclable materials research with University of Exhibition at the Smithsonian, Alaska 2021.

+ Margot Krasojevic Architects

Images via Margot Krasojevic