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Breathing concrete: Smokers’ pavilion as a complex organism
Photograph: James Morris
This concrete pavilion designed by Gianni Botsford Architects stands in a private yard in Zurich. Despite its materiality, it does not seem either massive or monolithic thanks to a special manufacturing method for translucent concrete. This means that it is possible to experience the natural environment while enjoying a smoke.
Architect: Gianni Botsford Architects, London
Location: private Home, Zurich, Switzerland
A pavilion is meant to protect its users from the weather. What makes the sleek, restrained design by Gianni Botsford Architects unique may not be perceptible at first glance. This quiet space stands out from other pavilions because the material used has a particular effect. The shell may seem closed in, but users do not feel cut off from their surroundings. On the contrary, from the inside of the shelter, they can perceive both garden and sunlight thanks to the material, known as translucent concrete or light-transmitting concrete.
With this project, the architects wanted to offset the diversity of the garden with a particular accent. Although the pavilion may not provide a visual complement to the surrounding greenery, its relationship with nature can nevertheless be understood as symbiotic. The garden gives life to the interior of the pavilion, making the concrete space appear to live as though it were a natural organism in itself.
The translucent concrete pavilion is based on a sophisticated concept and complex precision work. What looks simple and sleek is the result of innovative, state-of-the-art technology. Translucent concrete is made of fine-grained concrete and glass-fibre mats poured alternately in layers. The more dense the fibres, the more translucent the final product. There can be no question that this material was perfect for the architects, who developed a system in cooperation with GBA, Tall Engineers, Litracon and Hammerlein. The shelter space is made of five plates of translucent concrete, creating the floor, three walls and roof. These plates are 80 mm thick and gain stability from dowel connections and exactly placed stainless-steel reinforcements, meaning that no secondary structure was required.
This material, known as Litracon or Light-Transmitting Concrete, was patented in 2001 by Áron Losonczi. Here it provides the pavilion with a delicate feel. The simplicity of structure and form stand in direct opposition to the complexity of the material. The concrete box rests serenely in the owner’s garden and allows the lake and surrounding mountains to take centre stage.
Changes to the light alter the effects on the surface of the concrete, creating a spectrum ranging from heavy to light, from dense to permeable, from monochrome to colourful. It is these ever-changing effects created by the material, light and shadows that make the concrete pavilion appear to breathe alongside the plants and animals in the garden.
Usable space: 8.3 m²
Landscape architecture: Todd Longstaffe-Gowan
In co-operation with: TALL Engineers, London & Hammerlein Ingenieurbau GmbH, HTB Ingenieure + Planer AG
Translucent concrete: Litracon Bt., Ungarn
Award: Wallpaper Design Award 2015