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ALTHOUGH IT LOOKS PLEASINGLY RANDOM, IT USES ONLY FIVE DIFFERENT CURVES

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

In the fraught run-up to the opening of Interbuild on 23 April, one can guarantee that tension will be high among the people assembling the architecture pavilion. Designed for the second time by Will Alsop, this centrepiece for architect visitors deliberately pushes materials from timber company Finnforest Merk and surfacing company Formica to their limits. There is a feature wall in Finnforest’s Kerto laminated veneer lumber (LVL), which Alsop cheerily refers to as ‘plywood’. Made up from 122 pieces, with the largest 8m long, it will have been meticulously well planned and trial assembled beforehand. Nevertheless, putting this together in the tight timescale and pressurised environment of an international exhibition hall will not be a picnic.

Not surprisingly, Alsop’s original concept was even more challenging, and has been refined through a mixture of pragmatism and budget restraints. ‘Finnforest said to me that they wanted me to do something different, to challenge the material, ’ he explained. ‘Imagine a whole pile of sheets of plywood. You cut holes in them and attach them, and they become quite rigid.’ Alsop started with a model made in paper and then had to translate it into wood. As Jonathan Stone, UK construction products manager for Finnforest Merk, said to Alsop: ‘We asked you to make us uncomfortable and you did.’

Alsop was excited by the fact that, because LVL is a manufactured product, it can theoretically be of any length you want, in contrast to ‘natural timber’, which is limited by the dimensions of the tree. But he realised that there would be restrictions. ‘We started with the principles to see what we could do that would be affordable. We went to Germany [where Finnforest Merk has its main manufacturing facility] to see what we could do. We were given limitations - two different radii for the bending of the wood.’

The final solution that was adopted, although it still looks pleasingly random, in fact uses only five different curves in total.

Initially, the idea was that the Kerto might be steam-bent, but this proved not to be feasible. Instead, each layer was made up from three layers of 15mm Kerto, each of which had been made in a curved mould. This was a novelty in itself for Finnforest, since its standard thickness is 21mm.

The elements will arrive on site in a kind of ‘at pack’ to be assembled to form the wall that will be 28m long and 10m wide in total. Initially, the three other walls would be of timber panels, but cost restrictions have resulted in something more ephemeral.

But there will still be some structural posts at either end of the feature wall, since it will not be entirely self-supporting.

The bar will also be of wood, and the oor as well will be a Finnforest product, a phenolic plywood that is more commonly used for truck fit-outs. Extremely hard wearing, it also has ‘wonderful patterns’, says Alsop.

Formica will be used for the surface of the bar and also for the surfaces of the table. There will be a combination of a polished gold laminate and ebony wood finish - Alsop likes the idea of mixing real timber and imitation.

It is always disappointing, when so much effort goes into an exhibition stand, that it has such a short life, but in this case the pavilion’s use should be extended by a second application.

Alsop hopes that it can serve as an additional bar area in the public square outside his building The Public in West Bromwich when it has its formal opening later in the summer. It may need some weather-proo-ng, although Alsop is hoping for good weather.

But projects like this can also have a more intangible afterlife. Having discovered Kerto, Alsop is now hoping to use it on the ‘Ghost’ building that he is designing in Toronto. In that case, it would be used externally to provide sun-shading.

This will not be the first time that Finnforest has increased the range and knowledge of its own products through their use on innovative schemes. Several ideas, said Stone, also grew out of last summer’s Serpentine pavilion, designed by lvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura.

And for Formica, as well, the pavilion should provide inspiration in the way that at least a tiny part of its vast portfolio of materials can be used.

Exhibitions are all about stimulating the visitors to think in new ways and consider new ideas, so it seems appropriate that a similar process is affecting those involved in the design and manufacture of the architecture pavilion.

Interbuild runs from Sunday 23 April to Thursday 27 April. For more information and registration go to www. interbuild. com

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