A semi-translucent fiberglass orb perched atop quarry stones glows in the night in London’s Kensington Gardens. A 3,800-squarefoot gallery designed by the Chilean architect Smiljan Radić, the 2014 Serpentine Pavilion is a fragile play between material, texture, and light. Radić often uses papier-mâché models in his work and he wanted that material to translate into his pavilion. He brought on board the engineering arm of the multidisciplinary architecture and design firm AECOM to provide the technical expertise.
“He wanted a structure that felt thin, and brittle, and fragile, but also had the strength to span across quite a large face,” says Thomas Webster, one of AECOM’s lead engineers on the pavilion. “When you layer up papier-mâché, you get dark patches that are slightly thicker, and light patches. Radić wanted to play on that juxtaposition.”
Fiberglass was the logical solution. “The process is almost identical to the way you form a papier-mâché structure—in the sense that you need something to mold it around,” says Webster. “We created a negative form out of polystyrene cut from large two-by-fourmeter blocks, and we lay the strips of fiberglass around it and kept putting layers on.”