Like deep-sea creatures
For six years now the Amsterdam Light Festival has taken place in the Dutch capital, straddling November and January, the coldest and darkest time of the year. And every year a changing jury selects the best proposals on a set topic. Then the artworks are installed in the city center and can be visited free of charge. Though a ticket booth was not strictly needed given the free admission, every festival needs a central information point where visitors can find out about the artworks and possible routes. In November 2016, this temporary information pavilion was installed on one of the city’s liveliest traffic hubs, the Waterlooplein, at the east end of Blauwbrug, directly opposite Amsterdam Opera.
The organizers approached a local firm to design the pavilion: UNStudio, the architectural office of Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos in Amsterdam. For UNStudio, the inquiry came at just the right time, as it does not define itself through building designs alone, but also as a research-oriented architectural company. The studio always seeks by exchanging ideas with scientists and experts from other disciplines to operate at the cutting edge when it comes to the materials and construction methods used.
In connection with its research, in 2013 UNStudio had in cooperation with MDT-Tex, the German specialist for textile structures, already started developing a visionary façade system using textile components. This joiuntly developed system was intended to set new standards as regards the aesthetics, functionality and flexibility of textile architecture – and the temporary information pavilion for the Light Festival offered an ideal opportunity for the first prototype of “Cirrus”.
In keeping with the Festival’s guiding theme of “Biomimicry” the two offices designed a pavilion that essentially comprised two simple cubes twisted away from each other, and with natural light on the inside. The result: a complex, three-dimensional shape, which by night with its differently colored, pulsating light sequences that exude across the dark waters of the Amstel mimicked certain luminescent deep-sea creatures. Or to quote Ben Van Berkel: “Similar to deep sea creatures that use bioluminescence to signal, attract and inform, the Eye Beacon uses choreographed light sequences to alert visitors to its dual function as both a sculpture and an information point for the festival.”
Admittedly, the Festival service counter was ultimately housed in a simple standard container. However, a highly-striking structure was installed around it, which was basically conceived as an open framework, clad with 250 metal panels covered with tensile textile to mirror the appearance of the two twisting cubes. In order to keep the overall weight of the structure as low as possible, the panels were made from aluminum and only the corners from steel. Given the complexity of the overall structure, each panel had to be produced as a one-off with different dimensions. This also spawned 276 different angles for the corner connections. However, MDT-Tex and UNStudio succeeded in perfecting the parametrization of the design, production and assembly process and thus all the modules could be produced in the MDT-Tex main plant in Hardheim and subsequently installed on site. As a result, the design was realized in time and in budget.
Both for UNStudio and MDT-Tex the temporary pavilion was not only a matter of a research project but also functions as a demonstration object that illustrates the properties of textile covered architecture: namely visible lightness and variety of forms, ultimately created from two and three-dimensional modules. Even though the pavilion was not illuminated by day, its sculptural shape meant it always looked different when seen from another angle. The openings spread across the surface and made in its textile skin allowed visitors to peek inside the structure, and simultaneously recalled the gills of a living organism. Nobody would have been unduly surprised if at the end of the Festival in January 2017 it had dived into the Amstel and swum back down to the depths of the ocean whence it originally came.
Development work on the “Cirrus”has since proceeded apace. Currently, MDT-Tex and UNStudio are planning several joint projects that are intended to culminate before the year is out in a public presentation of the overall system. The next pavilion project will be launched at the Techtextil trade fair in Frankfurt – in an area of the fair that is devoted to life on the moon. (sp)
From May 9 – 12, 2017