London Pavilions | icon 039 | September 2006

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words Anna Bates

London went pavilion mad this summer. The most high-profile folly was Rem Koolhaas’ Serpentine Pavilion.

The structure, which will be standing in Kensington Gardens until October, was co-designed by structural engineer Cecil Balmond of Arup. It features a balloon made from semi-translucent polyester and filled with helium and air, which floats like a bubble above a circular room. The room is constructed from two layers of translucent polycarbonate panels and houses a café and events venue. The balloon is tethered to the ground with four cables and ten guy ropes, and can be lifted four metres above the room (depending on wind conditions) with electrical winches attached to the cables.

“The roof structure is about the size of Saint Paul’s dome,” says Balmond (Koolhaas’ long-time collaborator). “It contains 6,000 cubic metres of pressurised helium, which is enough to lift three Minis into the sky. This gives you an idea of what we’ve had to wrestle with.”

A ten-metre open cube forms the base of the balloon, containing projectors and lights and lined with wallpaper by German artist Thomas Demand. The balloon is illuminated from within at night.

This is Koolhaas’ first structure in the UK. “It’s like a dimple in the landscape,” says Koolhaas. “It has a kind of natural character.”

Koolhaas is the sixth architect to create a pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery, following in the steps of Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito and Daniel Libeskind. Guests at the opening seemed distinctly underwhelmed.

Photo: Sue Barr

words: Kieran Long

The Architectural Association’s summer pavilion shares the same DNA as its bigger brother at London’s Serpentine Gallery.

Students from Intermediate Unit 2 at the London architecture school designed and built the pavilion under the direction of tutors Charles Walker and Martin Self, who are both members of the Advanced Geometry Unit at structural engineer Arup (responsible for Rem Koolhaas’ Serpentine Pavilion). Self was the project engineer on Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura’s 2005 Serpentine Pavilion.

“We used to use the Serpentine Pavilion as a case study, so we used its very loose brief for the students and turned it into a three-term project,” said Self.

The unit was sponsored by timber manufacturer Finnforest to construct a pavilion to stand outside the AA for the duration of its summer exhibition. A competition was held amongst the ten students in the unit, judged by architects such as Alison Brooks, Alex de Rijke and Jamie Fobert. The winning student, Simon Whittle, used computer scripting to create a family of components that decrease in size to form structure and decoration, taking their aesthetic from fractal geometry.

The pavilion is made up of over 2,000 individual timber pieces. The material is Laminated Veneer Lumber, a thickened plywood system manufactured at the AA’s timber workshop in Hooke Park, Dorset, where the ten members of the team lived during the last five weeks of the manufacturing process. The pavilion may become a permanent exhibit at the AA’s Hooke Park premises.

words: Kieran Long

The British Library Plaza hosted a finely wrought timber structure as part of the London Architecture Biennale’s student festival in June.

The structure was designed and built by undergraduates from London Metropolitan University, under the direction of three prominent young London architecture practices who also teach at the school: DRDH Architects, Lynch Architects and Andrew Houlton. During the biennale, the pavilion hosted events with poet Ellen Feinstein and primary school children.

DRDH Architects partner Daniel Rosbottom said: “It was intended as a place that’s about the spoken word, rather than the written word of the library. It was built on the steps so it became a place to sit and a place to perform.”

The timber form was developed in a series of workshops with engineer Alan Conisbee. It was modelled in Microstation, and 1:1 drawings of the individual joints were produced so that they could be constructed by the students in the workshop. The prefabricated pieces were assembled by the students onsite in two days.

The geometry of the piece is based on the 3.14m square paving slabs of the plaza. Every piece of timber in the structure is different, and there is no foundation, sitting on a single steel “foot” that anchors the pavilion.

Rosbottom says that the project has been a great teaching tool. “It’s something that the students have made, and they get to see the consequences of what they have done.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 12:18

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