UTS Distort Pavilion

The UTS Distort Pavilion was a student design/build project that formed part of the Construction subject within the 1st year Architecture program in 2009. Due to the complexity of the design and construction requirements, the ongoing project was extended into a special elective subject for the students who wished to continue and complete the construction of the pavilion. The Distort Pavilion was exhibited at the UTS 2009 end of year exhibition, titled “INDEX” and was curated by David Burns.

The students involved with the Distort Pavilion were nearly all drawn from my tutorial group for the Introduction to Construction and Structural Synthesis subject, the subject coordinator being Joanne Jakovich, Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture at the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, UTS. The elective subject was also coordinated by Joanne, and involved several additional students who during the semester had watched the progress of the pavilion project with a great deal of interest and therefore took the opportunity to be involved in its completion. Home builder in Melbourne, Inspired Homes Melbourne has been very keen to become apart of the on-going projects we’re involved with.

Originally, the pavilion project was an assignment within the Introduction to Construction and Structural Synthesis subject run as an internal competition looking towards entering a proposed open competition later postponed to 2010.

Each tutorial group was given a structural concept or system as their “inspiration” for the design of the pavilion – e.g. tesselation, moebius strip – and my group was given the Geodesic Dome. Probably the greatest exponent of the geodesic dome is Sir Buckminster Fuller – Bucky to those who had any kind of affection for the man and/or his work.

After wrestling with a number of extrusions, extractions, and reconfigurations of the geodesic form, the group decided upon a pavilion design where it could be experienced as an object as well as a “funnel”, or a form which one can walk through and under.

Alongside the development of the form came the selection of materials for the struts and the connections – in the original concept, bamboo struts were connected with metal plates. As the design and construction process continued beyond the student competition, the joints became highly developed as was necessary for the realisation of the full scale structure.

The joints were realised as a laser cut layered plywood ball, where threaded rods could be placed through pre-cut and drilled holes into a central void in each ball, thereby allowing the manipulation of the struts into the correct angles for the dome structure.

Although not executed in the final construction, the prototype produced for the internal competition also involved a fabric “skin” that was designed to “breathe” using sensors and a widget mechanism.

Needless to say, the pavilion was structurally complex, especially as the radical design had involved the removal and/or relocation of struts or members that would normally create the form of a conventional geodesic dome. Peter Standen from Partridge Partners contributed extensively to the analysis and refinement of the design during the development and construction stages of the project.

The base design was developed over the length of the project, with the inherent flexibility required for the fixing of the connecting base joints creating a some headaches along the way. Trial and error lead the way to finding a successful solution that will also allow demountability, a key part of the original competition brief.

The final material selection was kept deliberately narrow, on the basis of sustainability and ease of construction. Natural black bamboo sections formed the struts, with plywood utilised in the joints and pavilion base. Standard timber sections were used for the base structure, and fixings were limited to screws, threaded rods and…epoxy glues. Like – a LOT of glue, as in keeping-Selleys-in-business quantities of glue. Yes, that was possibly not so enviromentally friendly…

Apart from careful ongoing management by the senior academic staff in the DAB (namely Sandra Kaji-O’Grady and Kirsten Orr), the successful execution of this ambitious project was very much due to the sheer grit, hard work and perserverance of these 1st year architecture students, who well and truly exceeded expectations on all fronts. In my opinion, there are many experienced architects out there who would have paled at the thought of designing and building such a complex structure, with limited resources and competing deadlines

As they should all be publicly commended for their inventiveness and commitment, the Distort Pavilion team were as follows: Andrew Southwood-Jones (Project Manager), Wang Fung Cheung, Zeinab Choukeir, Sung Dae Chung, Laura Hinds, Maria Iskander, James Lauman, Jaehee Lee, Ivan Luburic, David Macalyk, Phillip Nashed, Kate Nason, Amelia Pang, Reymund Penalosa, Priyeal Ramji, Jessica Ristuccia, Amberlynn Rodriguez, Jordan Sernik, Jeah Loong Yeoh.

And as their tutor? I found this a challenging and interesting experience, which extended both my thinking and skills as an architect practitioner,and as a teacher who is passionate about students undertaking hands-on construction activities. I look forward to seeing the work these students produce into the future, for there is no doubt that this has been a unique experience for them.

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