Amanda Levete’s organic forest canopy pushes the boundaries of technology in an experimental architectural design.

Known for her fascination with organic forms, AL_A’s Amanda Levete’s movable, weather-responsive forest canopy design will be the focal point in the Queen Victoria Gardens from October 2015 to February 2016.

Part of the annual MPavilion architecture commission and design event in Melbourne that was founded in 2014, every year, for four years, a different architect gets the opportunity to design a temporary pavilion to be placed in the Queen Victoria Gardens.

Nature-responsive
The design of this year’s MPavilion answers the brief of responding to the climate and the landscape, with biophilic attributes of bringing a functional space into nature that engages its natural Melbourne parkland setting.

The pavilion will be made up of ultra-thin translucent petals supported by tall and slender, willowy carbon-fibre poles, which will sway back and forth in response to the wind.

“Our design subverts the norms of immovable,” comments Levete. “It embraces and amplifies such distinctions, so that it speaks in response to the weather and moves with the wind rather than trying to keep it at bay.”

Experimentation in architecture
The design was approached from two angles, one to create an organic tree-like structure set among the trees and flowers of the Gardens, and the other to experiment with man-made materials and push them with the help of advanced technology. Experimentation with architecture has been a major emphasis for the design of the MPavilion for 2015.

AL_A has involved the expertise of some of the finest boat builders to apply the latest nautical engineering technology to innovatively stretch the composites that will form the tree-like roof canopy. Working with an advanced composite and geometry specialist Brisbane company, mouldCAM, they are constructing petals that are between three to five metres in diameter but only a few millimetres thick.

The lightweight but high-strength MPavilion will be constructed with the help of Kane Constructions and Arup.

Capturing sound
The petals that make up the forest roof canopy will also function as speakers through which sound can be recorded and played back. The built-in amplifiers in the petals will be wired through the carbon-fibre columns to prevent it from disrupting the seamless aesthetics of the pavilion.

Lighting to set the mood
For the architect, the pavilion’s presence at night was another big consideration since the site is overlooked by many high-rise buildings. Levete wanted to create a glow on the roof canopy when seen from above, which will filter down to the deck below.

Therefore, integrated LED strip lighting will be installed where the poles and petals meet to create a glowing halo effect. During the day, sunlight will dapple through the canopy, creating an ambient meeting place.

An idea for a public programme that will respond well to the design, Levete suggested that a series of bed-time stories be read by an actor at dusk to kids lying on the floor and bean bags, because “somehow this captures the slightly ethereal, dreamy quality that we want to create”, she says.

Functional and sustainable
Situated in an underutilised environment that is close to the city and transport, the MPavilion has become an important meeting place during summer, bringing people together in nature, in the heart of the city.

According to MPavilion founder and patron, Naomi Milgron, the design also stays true to the annual commission’s social and cultural legacy for Melbourne. “Architecture is about experience and ultimately enhancing people’s lives – MPavilion 2015 offers people a meeting place for ideas.”

While this design is only a temporary one, the structure is planned to be gifted to the City of Melbourne to be used elsewhere in future. The 2014 structure, designed by Sean Godsell Architects, has been donated to the Hellenic Museum, where it is open to the public and currently being used for functions and programming.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to www.mpavilion.org, www.ala.uk.com and www.arup.com.

Forest canopy highlights:
–    Petals that are 3m and 5m in diameter, but only millimetres thick.
–    Slender, bendable carbon-fibre poles.
–    Innovative application of composite materials.
–    Responsive to nature, particularly wind.
–    Seamless wiring of audio system.
–    Integrated LED strip lighting.
–    Creates a meeting space in nature.

Project team:
Architect: Amanda Levete Architects (AL_A).
Manufacturers: mouldCAM.
Builders: Kane Constructions.
Engineering: Arup.