The temporary design festival and expo has long provided opportunity for architects, designers and engineers to flex their mental and material muscle free from the constraints of larger and more functional commissions In favour of experimentation and creative freedom. Mies van der Rohe’s pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona had no need to worry about the location of the plant room whilst developing his ideal of free flowing space. Likewise, where best to fit the loo did not trouble Zaha Hadid when she conceived The Burnham Pavilion for Millennium Park, Chicago in 2009.
For the London Design Festival 2011 three architects were each brought together with a material with the freedom and opportunity to engage in the spirit of research and experimentation resulting in experimental temporary structures: AL_A’s Timber Wave, Timothy Hatton’s Pavilion At The Dock and David Chipperfield’s Two Lines.
Amanda Levete Architects’ Timber Wave is a lattice spiral of American red oak. On view for 29 days until 15th October outside the main entrance to the V&A, where AL_A have been awarded the commission for a new courtyard and underground extension to the museum. The three-storey high coil responds to the highly ornamental museum façade and its contents. “Repetition of motif is very much part of the didactic tradition of the V&A” observes the architect, “and this structure is born from that tradition”. The up-scaling of lamination techniques more often used in furniture has made the design possible, with structural engineering expertise provided by Arup. AL_A’s and past LDF commissions, by Established and Sons and David Adjaye, were supported by The American Hardwood Export Council.
David Chipperfield’s Two Lines is in situ until 16th October at the Southbank Centre as part of ‘Size + Matter’, a regular commission within the festival, which invites a designer to “explore the dynamic between their own creativity and the material or process”. Chipperfield and Sefar’s collection of vertical glass panels join the ghosts of festival past at the south side of the Royal Festival Hall, a legacy from the 1951 Festival of Britain. Each panel has been constructed with an internal layer of Sefar Architectural Fabric, a metal coated fabric mesh, with additional technical support by Arup. The installation changes appearance, with transparent panes becoming opaque and vice versa. As one moves and shifts viewpoint the panels appear to be fragile but are then cast over with a rust-coloured monumentality, and sturdy looking panels give way to fragile sheets.
Le Corbusier’s experimentation with hyperbolic parabaloids at the 1958 Brussels Expo may or may not have influenced the fabulous roof forms on Little Chef restaurants (See Sam Scorer’s motorway services at Markham Moor, Nottinghamshire). But Timothy Hatton Architects’ contribution to this year’s festival, Pavilion At The Dock, hopes to create a legacy beyond the temporary festival. This uses Concrete Canvas, a cement impregnated fabric that solidifies within two hours after water has been added. Much like the strips of fabric used in hospitals to build plaster casts. Whilst the pavilion itself aimed to test the versatility of the material through creative application, the interior has an exhibition of structural designs by staff from Timothy Hatton suggesting ways that the material may be used in quick build structures for deployment in disaster areas.
John Pawson’s Perspectives, at the base of the Geometric Staircase, in the South West Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral is an installation with a concave Swarovski crystal meniscus – the largest commissionable lens. This sits on a much larger reflective surface – the upper plane of a specially fabricated metal hemisphere (1200mm in diameter and 675mm in height). A 2m wide spherical convex mirror was suspended in the tower’s cupola, directly over the hemisphere. These optical devices created a composite image of the view up through the tower and an elevated downward perspective when looking down.
“Test Bed: implicitly a place for testing. For testing… what exactly? A wisp of a thought, a nugget of an idea, the beginning of a dream.” Testbed1 is a creative, experimental arts “space with no agenda”, in the architecturally distressed undercroft of a warehouse / office building in an ex-dairy in Battersea. Tenants include Will Alsop, Vivienne Westwood and Squint Opera and Testbed1 is managed by Nancy Alsop. The exhibition, Will Alsop ‘A Few Friends Friends’ was a group show of work by over 50 participants.
London Design Festival. 17-25 September 2011. Architectural Highlights. Three Structures: Amanda Levete, Timber Wave; David Chipperfield, Two Lines; Timothy Hatton, The Pavilion At The Dock; Will Alsop ‘A Few Friends Friends‘ Testbed1; John Pawson, Perspectives, St.Paul’s Cathedral.