Architect: Bradley Edwards, Architect AIA
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
Design/Build Team: David McElyea and Bradley Edwards
Owner: Dr. Mark Thomas
Contractor: David McElyea
Project Area: 160 sqf
Project Year: 2010
Photographs: Bradley Edwards
The polypod is a simple outbuilding with a multitude of possible uses. The project consists of a polycarbonate shell and an exposed wooden frame. The roof, floor, and wall “fold” to establish the vertical limits of all other materials and methods. The white translucent polycarbonate panels emit enough light to the interior while giving a hint of the structural logic from the outside. The building is an agent of light and shadow and takes advantage of the temporal quality of daylight.
Dr. Thomas had a very simple brief for the project. “I need a place to store some things, I have $5,000.00 and the building has to be beautiful”. The building is essentially a “primitive hut”. There are no (permanent) systems (HVAC, water, electrical) so the building was free to be a pure expression of architecture. The structure is made with a series of 2 x 4 continuous rectangular bent frames at 1’- 0” on center. Diagonal bracing is the most ubiquitous method of lateral bracing in stick frame construction, but in the polypod it is also in service to the scale and proportion of the space and building as a whole. The structure, set against the thin translucency of the skin, conveys the primary drama of the building, a relationship of light and shadow. There is also a rather complex relationship of the flatness of the panels (when frontally lit by sunlight) and conversely the reading of depth created by sunlight cast through the space (from the side opposite the viewer). These are the natural reciprocities and ambiguities granted by the translucency of the polycarbonate material and the qualities, which the project honors and promotes.
The design/build team consisted of David and myself and it was very important for us to stay within the budget. Not only for the obvious reasons (isn’t that what we are supposed to do?) but, as a proof that architecture can be achieved with any budget. There was a limit place on the project that materials (with the exception of the polycarbonate panels) had to be purchased at the local hardware store “off the shelf”, no special orders. This was done for obvious budgetary requirements, but again, also as a proof that architecture can be made with everyday materials.
Because of the (relatively) high cost of the polycarbonate panels, we had to be creative with how materials were selected and detailed in order to stay within the budget. This attention to every detail was a constant directive for the building process, for example: instead of paying for shipping, David picked up the polycarbonate panels in Tulsa (about 120 miles from Fayetteville). After factoring in gas and David’s hourly rate, picking up the panels (instead of having them shipped) saved about half the price of shipping. Another example is the choice of fasteners/attachment of the polycarbonate panels to the wood structure. We wanted an invisible connection where fasteners would be concealed or hidden when viewing the exterior and interior of the building. We considered many possibilities, most of which required either exotic materials or time-consuming labor, or in the worst cases, both. We found the perfect fastener in a small white exterior nail with just enough head to hold the polycarbonate material to the structure but not obtrusive enough to be seen from five or six feet away. Using these fasteners only cost $3.50 in material and about four hours of labor. This is one example of many in the project where the required outcome was an efficiency of the architecture, construction, and systems of assembly.
Text provided by Bradley Edwards.