AArchitecture 22

Page 18


The Building of a Drawing

2014 is the centenary of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-ino drawing, which he produced as a housing system in the early months of the First World War, largely in response to the devastation German artillery was wrecking on the existing building stock of France’s northern towns and villages. Of course, the design itself never came to fruition in physical form, but it has long held a central place within the histories and mythologies of modern architecture. Promoted under the thematic, ‘Fundamentals’, much of this history is being celebrated in the forthcoming Venice Architecture Biennale, directed by Rem Koolhaas, and so with Brett Steele and Thomas Weaver, we decided to mark both this centenary and the return to architecture’s core principles by building the drawing of the Maison Dom-ino. Like the Somme in 1914, building anything in Venice is like operating in a war zone, in the sense that we were working with a tabula rasa (right in front of the Italia Pavilion) and all materials and equipment had to be shipped in. The panic and terror induced by 30 different national pavilions working consecutive all-nighters close to the opening of the biennale was also something we wanted to avoid, and so we worked on the construction over the Easter break, when the Giardini was blissfully deserted, but for the German Pavilion, which had been finished even before we arrived. Assisting me were AA students Josh Penk, who worked on the design right from the start, and Rory Sherlock, together

Site: Location / Specific / Plan / Trees

with the amazing AA Exhibitions team – Vanessa Norwood, Lee Regan, Tim Eve and Jai Brodie. While the original design imagined a concrete construction – which would have taken time to cure – and heavy steel I-beams, we decided to deliver a contemporary interpretation of the Dom-ino, using much lighter engineered timber and prefabricated components, and even developed our own system of timber foundations, employing wooden stakes from a sheep-fencing system. And while sticking as close as we could to the original, it was the structural properties of this material and the ambition to have as minimal cut-offs as possible from a standard ply cladding sheet that determined the structure’s proportions, which resulted in a pavilion just 45cm short of Le Corbusier’s 10.8m x 6.6m plan. The completed structure looks wonderful, and standing within it really is strangely familiar, like occupying not a building but a drawing. And perhaps like the original drawing’s foxing, our own pavilion should also weather, losing the pale yellow of the fresh ply over the six months of the biennale’s duration and turn a little greyer. The idea then is for the structure to be disassembled and rebuilt again, hopefully first in front of Le Corbusier’s National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, and then back in Bedford Square in May, so that the AA’s 2015 graduating class can be framed by perhaps the most famous frame of all.

See School Annoucement on page 34 for details of an AA Members’ trip to Venice Architecture Biennale.

Valentin Bontjes van Beek, Intermediate 10 Unit Master, builds a 1:1 version of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-ino in Venice’s Giardini, in anticipation of this year’s biennale.

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