My commitment to pavilions—to the idea of making constructional follies—is connected with needing to develop prototypes and carry out constructional research away from the normal practice of architecture. Without being subject to a client’s brief, the pavilions give me an opportunity to develop and test different methodologies, which is something that has always interested me about teaching. They are investigations into various kinds of context, dealing with urban scenarios and landscapes—they are about making something in space for its own sake, when the guiding idea comes from a reading of place. The pavilions fine tune my engagement with a specific situation, allowing me to see what is essential in terms of an action or construction. I did not set out with the idea of working in series, but as different opportunities came up, the process of designing them became more organic, the language seemed to make sense, and as one thing reinforced another, they took on a life of their own.
There is an intuitive side to using timber for the pavilions, but it is probably a reaction to the complexity of the performance requirements I normally deal with, thinking through the nature of membrane systems, gaskets, sealants, joints and cover plates. As an alternative, I wanted to take a primary material—not just timber, it could be stone—and sculpt it. There was something about timber sections and making these elemental assemblies that felt liberating. The processes involved in putting a pavilion together are actually quite sophisticated, but the combination of reduced means and the need to respond to an immediate situation made a refreshing change. It gives the pavilions a kind of constructional purity in how they generate form and act in space, and this uncomplicatedness was very exciting to me.
Timber is also something of a Trojan horse, as it delivers the appearance of temporality and is non-threatening—it allows for experimentation without being confrontational. These qualities also influenced my approach, because feeling a lack of permanence gave me more of an opportunity to address spatial questions. The dark stain helps to consolidate this position, in that it neutralizes certain formal issues that I do not wish to deal with, as well as protecting the timber. The weakness of timber—its ability to look non-permanent—was particularly relevant when I was working on the TBA21 Pavilion and The Source. The forms we were making were quite powerful, but the timber weakens their presence and they are not overbearing in relation to the artworks. Both these pavilions have the feeling that they could just disappear, and this was part of the design intent.
The notion of moving between formal and informal is part of how I read situations. Most of the pavilions combine a formal response to some aspect of the site and informal responses to others. By checking whether the conditions I have created align with my initial perception, I can use the final structure to test the accuracy of my reading. Some built forms offer scenarios and options that are generous and play out in a series of mutable ways, and other forms offer an absolute singularity. Horizon has this overall singularity, while Genesis is completely informal in its relationships, despite its monumental appearance. Sclera is formal in terms of how it maintains its position in a busy urban space and how you enter, but when you are inside, it is completely informal and the monumentality dissolves. Despite their obvious differences, something similar happens in Gwangju, where the River Reading Room is formal in appearance but there is an informality in how it connects with the context.
In playing different aspects of the pavilions against each other, I am interested in understanding the contradictions they represent. There is something very powerful about the prospect of making new monuments in the 21st century but it is important to question whether they should operate in the same way as historic monuments. Rather than the imperial idea of recognizing a singularity, I am interested in exploring the democratization of that hierarchy. Democratization does not mean that monuments cease to be relevant; it requires the monument to be transformed so that it has an inbuilt openness and can be approached and understood from many points of view. The monument is no longer a representation, it is an experience of time and place that is available to everyone. This was the intention behind the River Reading Room, to give a pedestrian citizen this moment of grandeur, which is about them being empowered in the landscape. The pavilions give me an immediate possibility of engaging with these issues.
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