Beyond the facade.
Representing England through architecture.
Research Question: Howcan England be represented through architecture?
As humans, our ability to recognize and establishrelationships between materials within our environment is one of the manyreasons “ we ” have been regarded as “ the higher species ”. Every individualin the society has made at least one connection with a particular object inhis/her surroundings. Usually, these connections vary from one person toanother. A little boy may classify a supermarket as a “happy place”, once hehas established “that” connection that he is given treats on each visit. Thesame can be said about symbols and facts within the society. However, How can acountry be represented through architecture?
The project “ Beyondthe Façade ” began as a research engine on how a country could berepresented in the form of a building. For me, that country was England. Thebuilding: a pavilion; would be a temporary structure that would be used in theBeijing 2012 World Expo; an event smaller than only the FIFA world cup as wellas the Olympics.
I set out tounderstand what it meant, “ to be English ”. My studies covered aspects of Britishculture varying from Literature, music, poetry, food, sports, arts, weather andhistory. I was most intrigued by my findings in Weather and History.
I found temperature and rainfall to be the mostintriguing aspects of weather in England.
My first observation was how clothing was specificallydesigned to address temperature in the society. For many generations, clothesin England were made to “provide warmth”. Inspired by animals of cold regionsin the world, designers aspired to achieve this under the concept of a thickskin. Interestingly enough, the same concept can be seen being applied in themany buildings constructed over many generations in England. On the other hand,Rainfall was not only influencing the clothes people wore and the type of buildingsthey lived in; it also influenced the activities in which English citizenscould partake. Famous for its many long showers, England can be classified as acountry with “disrupting” rain. I use the word “disrupt” because rain usuallyrefrains people from outdoor activities. As a result, a desire to enjoy abright “no rain” day becomes a “want” amongst British citizens. These two ideaswould be used as
Primaryprinciples within my design:
1.Thick skin / Warmth
2. Outdoor space / Rainfall
Furthermore, my research into English History coveredtopics such as politics, war, art and language. I was really interested in theold English armor that been used by knights and cavalries many generations ago.I felt that they were such an exciting part of English culture that hadexcessive design potential. I decided to keep this as a secondary principle that would be used later on in my design.
Once I had identified my primary and secondary elements,I began to work on conceptual models. After several proposals, I designed amodel, which bore a circulation unit that wrapped around the building: acting asa thick skin. The model proposed a path that would guide visitors throughseveral thresholds of indoor and outdoor space in reference to the idea of rainfall.These thresholds would be established through an overlap of roof gardens thatwould intertwine between interior and exterior spaces. The building would havethree floors and an underground space.
Having established a final concept, I began working on space programming. The Expo requiredthat the pavilion provided spaces for registration, exhibition, multimedia,souvenirs and administration.
After programming, I began to explore differentpossibilities for my facade. Thequestion I always asked myself was what did I want the façade to actually do? What effect would it have on the peoplelooking at the building from outside? What impact would it have on the spacesand the people inside? Considering the expo as a base for many other competingpavilions, I felt a need to create something attractive. Not just attractiveaesthetically, but something that would spark curiosity amongst all the Expovisitors in general.
I went back into research on English culture in order tofind inspiration: then it hit me; the old English armor. Having been made forprotection, the old English armor was worn by knights in times of battle. Theirtough quality was used to protect vulnerable body parts such as heads andtorsos. However, these armors were not made to be hard in all parts, as thesaying goes “ a chink in one’s armor”. Chinks were parts that lack the generaltoughness most of the armor would have. These chinks were usually installed inarmors that are made to protect regions close to joints and body parts. In oneword, the old English armor was designed based on, layering. This was the missing principle I needed to complete theproject: the third Primary principleon which the façade is based.
The façade proposal took me through a series of studieson how I could reveal and conceal spaces in the building. Some of these methodsincluded alternating materials, voids and planes, transparency and Opacity. Idecided to use only perforated aluminum sheets for the façade.
As I felt using one material would establish a clearerreading on the building. Steel frames designed specifically for the buildingwould hold these sheets. The sheetswould be arranged in four layers. By alternating the layers of aluminum sheetsand the rates at which the voids were repeated, public spaces are revealedwhile private spaces are successfully concealed. This alternation would alsoallow in a variation of light into the spaces creating unique moment during theday.
The final stage of the project was focused on integrating the façade with the building. My first attempt of having the steel framesplaced on the side of the building sides made the facades look like signboards. The building and the façade looked like two different objects: I neededto integrate them. Thus, I was inspired to use the same idea of perforation onthe façade for some portions in the ceiling. This helped in directing beams oflight into the building.
The overall form of this building is based on handpicked elements related to England: Temperature, Rain and Armor. The wrap likecirculation of visitors around the building is reminiscent of a thick skin thatprovides warmth. In addition, the alternation of outdoor and indoor spacesthrough the use of openings and installed gardens consoles that “want” foroutdoor activities. Finally, the façadeis made to act in layers similar to those of the old English armor, with someparts revealing the interior/exterior and others concealing them.
To assume that a random visitor can identify thebuilding immediately as an object that represents a nation could be slightlymisleading: on the other hand, it would be safe to say that a person fullyaware of the elements incorporated into the design may recognize howeffectively they have been used. One may have to experience the many effectswithin the building in addition to seeing it from afar in order to conclude ifthe building’s goal to represent a country is successful.