New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion

Architype Dialogue presents

Ben van Berkel

Time is an inherent characteristic of the pavilion typology; the pavilion most often being a structure of either temporality or semi-permanence. How does this attribute affect the design approach to these constructions?

One of the advantages of the pavilion typology is in fact that these structures are temporary, as they create opportunities for testing out ideas very quickly. In a sense perhaps the pavilion is akin to performing a piece of music, as music can only be experienced while you listen or play it at any given moment. The pavilion could in fact be said to behave in a similar way; perhaps because of their temporary nature pavilions provide an experience, and this is in fact the strength of the form.

In terms of experimentation and innovation, what advantages does pavilion design offer?

Pavilions provide a kind of prototypical stepping stone or apparatus for ideas and solutions which can later be expanded upon in buildings. The pavilion can perhaps be seen as an aggregation, in the sense that it can form an accumulation of many different architectural ingredients which interact and influence each other, but may not as yet provide a perfect synthesis which could be applied to larger, more complex building project. But these elements can be tested and combined in the temporary structure and can later lead to concepts and practical solutions which would perhaps otherwise not have been possible to test in a building. Moreover, pavilions afford the opportunity not only to test new materials, or material combinations, but also to try out theoretical and conceptual ideas in combination with these more pragmatic elements, sometimes even after the fact. The pavilion we designed for the Venice Biennale in 2008 gave us the opportunity to further develop ideas we were unable to test in the VilLA NM project, which had been realized the year before. The Changing Room installation provided the means to expand on the concepts and ideas employed in the villa project and formed a kind of crossing point between that project and further ideas which can now be expanded upon in future buildings.

How is the ideal balance reached between innovation, experimentation and invention, and the more pragmatic values which at times need to be addressed?

Sometimes it will indeed involve combining the conceptual and the theoretical with more pragmatic considerations. For instance the pavilion in Battery Park in New York is on the one hand a sculptural form, but on the other is designed to utilise its petal-like structure to spatially orientate itself to the site in order to provide directional services to the thousands of people who will visit the location on a daily basis. Here the flower-like structure is used to provide a variety of services, such as an information point and a coffee bar. Because we have experience of designing pavilions in the past, it became possible to combine functional requirements with interesting and experimental architecture. But in fact this is not so different to the approach required for buildings, so in a sense one is already experienced in finding this balance.

How important is pavilion architecture to young, emerging firms?

Pavilions are very important as a testing ground for the ideas that as a young architect or firm you haven’t as yet had the opportunity to carry out. They provide a projection for ambitions and an opportunity to build on ideas. What is in fact slightly surprising is the fact that more established firms don’t seem to engage is these projects as much as one might expect. I have seen pavilion projects from Rem Koolhaas and Peter Eisenman, and a number by Herzog en de Meuron but I do find it a pity that pavilions are not used so much anymore as a theoretical testing ground.

In your opinion, what qualities/considerations are essential to good pavilion design?

I think a good pavilion contains a kind attraction which draws you in and needs to work on many levels, in the same way as a building needs to work, or even a painting needs to work. They need to communicate on several levels. A good design will also be ground breaking on some level. I once saw a beautiful pavilion done by David Adjaye, where he worked with both the transparency and intensity of light and created a wonderful and intense visual experience which went beyond the notion of the space itself.

On the whole I believe that pavilions can be seen not just as models for experimenting with materials or construction techniques, but also as models for thinking; as intellectual constructs. Through the experience of working with the diagram or even design models, as apart from working in a linear process of moving from sketch to design, the pavilion can be seen as a kind of extension of an instrument for design; the pavilion can function as a possible apparatus for the process of design.

Architype Review thanks Ben van Berkel for his interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.


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