Installed on Parliament Square, London, the ‘House of Flags’ is a flexible, demountable, and totally reconfigurable architectural intallation conceived as a gigantic ‘house of cards’ in the Eames’ spirit. The project was designed by AY Architects after an invited international design competition initiated by the Greater London Authority for the Mayor of London’s ‘Wonder Series of Incredible Installations’. 206 panels depict the flag icons of the nations and combined create a collaged image of the world. All together they make up a large building jigsaw, a united ‘house’ of symbols, shimmering colors and perforations. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The assemblage made the perfect photographic backdrop for thousands of people who visited it daily and took their portraits in front of it. House of flags collates politics, graphics and architecture into one gesture. The exterior of the installation is a complex layering of color graphics made up of the unique iconography of each flag, while the interior space has a unified monochrome presence created by the natural finish of the plywood panels.
The installation is a free-standing structure measuring 17m long x 8m wide x 4.5m high. It is made of 206 FSC certified birch plywood panels and over 400 laminated connection components, of which there are 8 different types. It stands on 42 pre-cast concrete foundational blocks. The graphic of each flag was printed directly on the plywood panels using a large format UV flat bed printer, which resulted in a crisp image read through the timber grain surface. The back of each flag panel was left to show the natural material finish. The panels are CNC cut and the majority of them have cut-outs of symbols and perforations. They are stacked like a house of cards with alternating orientation from row to row. The top panels are more perforated and lighter whereas the bottom ones are more solid and therefore heavier.
The structure is flat-pack, demountable and entirely reconfigurable. As a kind of large three-dimensional puzzle it can be reinstalled in new configurations and flag hierarchies of various shapes and sizes. On Parliament Square the untreated plywood finish of the internal elevations plays with the weathered limestone of the houses of parliament backdrop. At the same time the vibrant colors of the external elevations suggest an inversion of the exuberant colors of the interior of the houses of parliament.
During the day the structure works as a shadow modulator with the shadows of its perforations shifting from east to west. When the sunlight is sharp soft layers of color light, produced by the vibrancy of the color-printed panels, are reflected on the natural plywood panels next to them. At night the structure is lit from within, glowing as an inhabited ‘house’ and showing the emblem cut-outs appearing as silhouetted figures.
The assemblage on Parliament Square presents the flags in alphabetical order, never touching or intersecting, and carefully considered so that certain cut-outs are not offensive or seen from the back. AY Architects worked with the Flag Institute, the world’s leading research and documentation center for flag information, to determine how the design of the panels and their connections could respect these protocols.