Will the current ubiquitous environmentalism save our cities and the world? Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it seems like it could. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays it appears rather unlikely. The development of the project for an Ultra-Light Pavilion in Shenzhen presents to us an opportunity to suspend relative disbelief and attempt an exemplary contribution.
Beyond the quantifiable benefits of "lightness" in architecture as a strategy towards the preservation of scarce resources, the idea of the Ultra-Light Village appears as a providentially appropriate way to consider the nuances of an interdependence between architecture, the city and the environment.
A work of architecture in the city is traditionally regarded as belonging to one of two types, either a monument or a part of the fabric. The monument of course celebrates momentous events, perpetuates foundational myths or aggrandizes the humanities of celebrated individuals; the fabric is everything else and is supposed to create the context in which the monuments can exist. The monuments are symbols, "exemplary" and artificial moments in the city. Precisely because their role is to perpetuate certain conditions, they are deprived of the possibility of changing—ergo all that stone and bronze. And unchanged, they are confident and certain, the architectural equivalent of an unshakable conviction, or of a faith, they are lifeless. Life is happening elsewhere in the doubt, confusion and chaos that can typically be found in the city’s fabric.
The Ultra-Light Village of the Shenzhen Biennale is an oxymoron, a beautiful self-contradiction both monumental—because anything worth building in a biennale shares a measure of the monumental—and ephemeral. This paradox becomes our guiding principle in the development of this modest work of architecture. This little building can become a salute to the millions of souls living in Shenzhen. Like most other people that live in other gigantic metropolises of the earth, they share a life unfolding amongst the fragments of a larger reality no one understands, and their lives may be sometimes overwhelmed by diffidence and hesitation. This pavilion can be an anti-monument to them, an ephemeral monument for those who do not want to impose their opinion or perpetuate their situation. A pavilion as an ephemeral “monument,” an Oxymoron Pavilion.
The pavilion will be built over a plywood platform and defined as a stepped ascending 3-centered plywood spiral supported by an array of tapering plywood fins. The entire construction is bonded within an imaginary cube measuring 6mx6mx6m.
At night, 3 floor lights, one located in each of the centers of the 3 spheres regulating the overall geometry, will project shadows of the pavilion's structure and its visitors over the translucent nylon skin proposing a dynamic "facade" that becomes an announcement of the building's occupation by people. Because the spatial relationship between visitors and interior light sources cannot be predicted or enforced, the conceivably changing size of the projected shadows will create unforeseeable juxtapositions of scale—perhaps the most crucial of considerations in the design of monuments—altering our understanding of the small building and its meaning.
The geometry of the structure approximates the structural benefits and material economies of circular structural schemes reducible to tension or compression rings. But the immutable stasis of a circular geometry can, as if contaminated by an awareness of time, be transformed into the spiral's dynamically changing parameters, the discontinuities of its stepped configuration and its theoretical capacity for infinite growth or decline. Compared with the stability of the circle, the spiral suggests a loss of certainty for the future, an Oxymoron Pavilion for the uncertain future of urban life.
The project is born of the collision of two impulses: Desire to evoke, with well-meant irony, a spiral, Constructivist symbol of a monumentality for a better future, and Necessity of modest budget and schedule, realities leading inevitably to CNC-machined plywood and simple steel angle connections. It was assembled in 3 days for a budget of US$12,000. The project emerges almost innocent of formal intent, creating itself by automatic-pilot within limitations of material and technique.