the common practice of altering a site’s natural geology with modern technology often results in an ‘accidental nature.’ this phenomenon describes a material ambiguity — an uncertainty of what is liquid or solid; what is natural or artificial. lingang, now nanhui new city is located at the southeastern tip of the shanghai peninsula and is an exemplary site of such an accidental nature. a major portion of the land on which the new city is sited was reclaimed from the sea — marking the largest land reclamation in history. the geological ambiguity of this mysterious ‘accidental nature’ was the starting point of the design of the soft matter pavilion.

soft matter pavilion
the outdoor pavilion has an organic canopy | image © chen hao (also main image)

 

 

naturalbuild‘s outdoor pavilion, built for the 2017 shanghai art exhibition, mimics the vague geological characteristics of its site. it is elementally comprised of the canopy and the column. the net-like canopy is sprayed with an insulation foam which rapidly hardens and expands, introducing a bubble-like texture. while initial iterations of an undulating roof structure were designed parametrically, designers ultimately turned toward a more hands-on fabrication process, consequentially creating a new type of construction process. before the foam spray, the suspended nylon net was pre-stressed with anchored weights at scattered points of the surface.

soft matter pavilion
low apertures allow a glimpse to the exterior | image © naturalbuild

 

 

the fabrication technique of ‘pre-distorting’ a tensile surface has multiple structural benefits – naturalbuild explains: ‘firstly, as the shell structure has already been ‘pre-distorted’ by self-weight… gravity will not cause another deformation as long as the boundary conditions remain the same; moreover, the process of pre-stressing was able to lower the risk of the polyurethane foam cracking. as a result, a lightweight pre-stressed shell structure was formed.’ the ultimate design of the ‘soft matter’ pavilion thus prioritizes both precise structural calculations as well as the visitor’s perception of it’s ambiguous materiality.

soft matter pavilion
the seemingly soft surface will not deform under weight | image © naturalbuild

soft matter pavilion
the organic surface | image © chen hao

soft matter pavilion
the canopy is pre-distorted with point loads | image © naturalbuild

soft matter pavilion
model | image © naturalbuild

soft matter pavilion
site plan | image © naturalbuild

soft matter pavilion

weight distributions and roof plan | image © naturalbuild

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