We were invited by the Landscape Architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan to design a ‘smoking pavilion’ within the garden of a private house in Zurich he was designing. This would be a shelter where it is possible to sit and relax and admire the surrounding garden, lake and mountains whilst our clients could partake of one of their favourite pastimes without affecting anybody in the house- the old fashioned art of smoking.
Our idea was to create a simple structure which would sit quietly in the garden, but possess a richness and complexity in its materiality which would develop several relationships with the surrounding.
We wanted the pavilion to create a shelter, but at the same time allow a subtle perception of the garden and the sunlight. We have been aware of the existence of translucent concrete since it was first invented in 2001 and it felt like an appropriate material in this case, because it allowed the surrounding colors, shapes, movements and shadows to be perceived from the interior.
A garden is composed of plants and living organisms. With these qualities, the translucent concrete allows the pavilion to be alive too. As the light conditions change in time, the surfaces change and vary from heavy to light, from solid to translucent, from monochromatic and uniform to varied and coloured. It breathes with the surroundings. In the night the walls and slabs are lit up creating a feeling of lightness and almost fabric-like quality.
This is the first ever self-supporting translucent concrete building. A new system was developed with GBA, Tall Engineers, Litracon and Hammerlein, using a new variant of the translucent elements where the precast panels had to be very carefully engineered to structurally perform very efficiently to avoid a secondary structure. The casting was a delicate operation because of the very dense pattern of the PMMA translucent elements, the carefully positioned stainless steel reinforcement and the thinness of the panels.
The final material looks very simple, but is in fact the result of highly precise and advanced engineering. The pavilion’s space is defined by five translucent precast concrete panels connecting floor, walls and roof, but the surprise lies in the effect of the structure and ones perception of a heavy and solid material becoming something both ethereal and delicate.