Kinematic Pavilion

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) partnered with the MAK Center for Art and Architecture on an exhibition that explores the intersection of art, engineering, and architecture. Set in the historic Schindler House in West Hollywood, Calif., Poetic Structure: Art + Engineering + Architecture highlights several projects the firm has developed with world renowned artists and architects, and similarities that exist between artistic, architectural, and structural design.

A SOM-designed pavilion is one of the centerpieces of the exhibition. It’s a one-of-a-kind, portable, 27-foot-long, kinematic outdoor pavilion made of hinged wood panels. SOM engineer Toby Mitchell came up with the idea for the structure after reviewing research Professor Tomohiro Tachi of the University of Tokyo is doing into “rigid origami.” The idea — implemented by a team from multiple SOM offices in the U.S. and internationally — was to create a structure that can be transformed into various configurations with minimal human effort and without deforming the individual panels.

The Pavilion is a large-scale, ‘rigid origami’ structure that’s dynamic and able to move under certain conditions and human control. It blends cutting-edge theoretical research, real-life application, and constructability. It’s a different take on what architects and engineers can achieve when they work together.

The pavilion is made of 99 flat, high-grade plywood panels with contoured stiffeners that are attached perpendicularly. Each panel is connected to adjacent ones with customized stainless steel door hinges. The pavilion hangs from aluminum truss frames above, which are supported by shallow foundations on each side of the structure. The result is a surface that can be moved and flexed into various shapes of its original geometry with the application of minimal pressure or load. The structure remains rigid throughout its pattern of movement.

SOM’s research and design process included designing the geometric form, conducting structural analysis to understand the behavior of the movable structure, materials testing, and constructing small- and large-scale models to investigate the design for strength, serviceability, and constructability.

Once the design and preliminary testing phase was complete, the team constructed the pavilion at its Chicago office for final full-scale testing. It was then dismantled, trucked across the country, and built again by the firm’s staff in the outdoor garden of the Schindler House in West Hollywood. Since then, visitors from all over the world have experienced the pavilion as part of the larger Poetic Structure exhibition.

Research, collaboration, and innovation are important parts of SOM’s practice. The process and findings of projects like this are carefully documented and published for potential use in future building projects, academic purposes, and to help advance the design profession.

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