“Solid Air” Walls – Size + Matter Pavilion

With the innovations in materials available to us in present time, our designs are not as limited as they used to be in terms of pushing the limits. When our group was discussing possible designs for our pavilion at the Size + Matter exposition in London, pushing the limits of materiality to the extreme was a priority we wished to convey. Before our final design, however, we all selected a few materials to study and then created preliminary pavilion designs tailored to those materials. The preliminary design that intrigued our group the most was the stone and concrete, in which a large slab of concrete was upheld by thin columns of stone. After deciding this was the direction in which we would eventually pursue, our group selected the material palette of aerogel and concrete, two very different materials characteristically.

Aerogel is an incredibly unique and innovative material. Though it has made preliminary tests and studies in building applications, we again wanted to push the materials limits and implement the aerogel in a completely bold way into our pavilion. Reflecting on our process work, we decided to create a pavilion in which inhabitants would feel as uncomfortable as possible. The final design consisted of switching the material’s ordinary characteristics where the almost transparent aerogel supported thick, heavy slabs of concrete as the roof massing, instead of the other way around. This design would be possible because of aerogel’s extreme structural strength, despite being 99 percent air.

Our design strategy goes back to the lecture given on perception and fear in architectural applications. People are instinctively afraid to walk on a glass catwalk in a mall or go inside the glass viewing box in the Willis Tower because of their perceptions that there is no solid ground beneath them, even though the structures are completely safe. This is exactly the angle in which we pursued. The seemingly transparent aerogel walls would get people wondering how the concrete slabs above were being supported, making people fearful of entering. The slabs are also tilted, suggesting they could slide down of the roof at any moment.

The last strategy of our design was to make the pavilion interactive through the use of LED lighting within the aerogel walls. Our intention was to mimic people’s movement through a “light shadow” in the aerogel as they walk through the pavilion. This not only makes the pavilion a piece of architecture, but amuses visitors into having a positive experience. Our group’s pavilion is a very bold approach to extending limits, but one day it will be possible to achieve such a feat through the development of material technology.


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