As freestanding structures, pavilions are objects of pleasure for architects. They have alway been a great vehicle for designers to explore big ideas at the small scale. They offer architects the unique opportunity to push boundaries in terms of spatial and qualitative experience, testing principles of structural and assembly logic unhindered by the constraints of larger projects. This all gives the pavilion the potential to be ultimately more innovative, interactive and joyful than permanent buildings.
The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 directly impacted on the construction industry, hitting architecture hard and employments rate in the profession. The young generation of graduates at this time were amongst the first to be trained in a new practice called “digital fabrication” which included 3D Printing, CNC milling and laser-cutting coupled with the use of parametric 3D-modelling software. We had no jobs but had access to “maker spaces” in which we could build innovative small scale prototypes of all kinds. The excitement of making overshadowed the sad economic reality around us and large scale architecture did not directly reflect the speed at which our understanding of geometry and fabrication was increasing. We had to test our ideas at the 1:1 scale continuously to inform our increasingly complex and reality-driven digital models. Hence creating a rich and almost immediate loop between our digital and physical models. Digital craft allows designers to produce modular systems in which every piece can be different. One can cut rectangular wooden elements with different lengths, place them at different angles and produce a stunning architectural landscape very cheaply. The intelligence of the system creates its value, not just the material.
All these ideas did not need a client but they needed funding and the recent rise of easily accessible crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter has meant that the designer can now reach millions more people than previously possible, to seek funding to realise their designs. Instead of one client there can now be many, yet paradoxically through this process the designer retains more ownership and room for creative expression as the initial idea was his own and he’s seeking funding for it of answering the brief of a single client.
This has been coupled by an increase in maker spaces where designers can access digital tools, driven behind the scenes by the open-source movement where the development of software is now accelerated through interaction with a vast user base. The increased accessibility of parametric software has seen the rise of potential users and demand for maker spaces across the world, spaces which allow the designer to directly interact with and learn from the tools, rather than solely providing information and relying on a fabricator. The designer has become the maker.
As studio masters of Diploma Studio 10 at Westminster University (Unit Blog: WeWantToLearn.net) we believe in the value of giving students the opportunity to be involved in the whole of the design and build process, and in encouraging them to actively seek out opportunities to build, not to wait to be hired, and so we involve them in writing funding applications, liaising with engineers, dealing with logistics, using social media as a tool to create a buzz about their designs, and crowd-funding their projects, and ultimately using their own hands to build their own designs as part of a team; providing an unmatched immersion into the real world, and empowering them to realise that they too can be the new designer makers. This was evidenced in the realisation of three student projects at Burning Man Festival in Nevada, and through the SunBloc project with students of Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design, winner of the RIBA silver medal 2012, a solar powered house made of foam as part of the international Solar Decathlon competition.