Early in the semester one, the announcement about Tongji Construction Festival was made for the first year architecture students at Melbourne uni. This event involved designing and constructing a pavilion for micro communities, using translucent polypropylene sheets. There were only five spots for the UoM team, but I thought it was worth giving a go.
In May, I received an email that my application was successful and that the preparation days would be held in prior to the departure in early June. As a part of the preparation for the festival, we as a team came up with designs, experimented with materials and started creating a 1:10 model.
Our pavilion design came from the idea of providing a space for refuge. The oval shaped base and the egg-like form give viewers of the delicate and welcoming impression that may be difficult to represent through geometric shapes. The circular waffle structure holds four layers of skins that extrude vertically, at the same time it provides a sense of threshold at the front.
On Monday 5th June, we had a two-hour exam for Global Foundations of Design in the morning and so some of us needed to go straight to the airport from the exam room. We arrived in Shanghai in the morning on 6th, and then we joined the tour with other international university teams from the afternoon. While other teams stayed at a hotel, my team had to stay at the university residential apartments due to the issue of overbooking by the hotel. It initially disappointed us, however, after all, we could find a local park, a cosy bookshop/cafe, great Chinese restaurants, a handy general store and experience the everyday life of people in Shanghai, all because of the location of our accommodation.
From Tuesday to Friday, we worked mainly on cutting 5mm-thick polypropylene sheets into different shapes of the pavilion components and putting the waffle structure together. Compared to other teams’ designs, our design had a large number of curved sections, which made the cutting process very difficult. Some pieces had the perforation, which was even harder to cut. Some days we worked from 9 am to 9 pm, and we were simply exhausted by the end of the day.
On Saturday, the first day of the festival, the construction permit was issued and the construction at the venue started. Unfortunately, the thunderstorm hit the festival and so many local teams weren’t able to work on their pavilions (international university teams had an alternative indoor space to continue building). We first put together the waffle structure, then started fixing skins onto the structure. In the humid space, we worked until 5 pm, the deadline for the construction. We faced the difficulty of pinning the long vertical pieces together using bolts to give a strength, but at the end of the day, we managed to make them stand straight up in the air.
Although we didn’t get a prize, I thought the fact we dealt with organic, unique form for the pavilion structure rather than the repetitive geometric form was remarkable. We could have considered further the audience’s experience in the space and its function as a shelter, however, I believe that our pavilion had a strong symbolic meaning of protecting the community.
It was a great pleasure to be able to work with UoM team – Katherine, Michaela, Ashwin, Clement, and two great supervisors, Matt and Paul – and to be with them throughout this splendid experience in Shanghai. Our teamwork and aspiration to complete our pavilion made it possible!