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Antepavilion ahoy! Inflatable floating performance venue launches

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The second edition of this annual commission, designed by Benedetta Rogers and Thomas Randall-Page, will tour London’s waterways on a reconditioned barge 

This year’s Antepavilion, designed by Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers, takes the form of a canary yellow cocoon-shaped inflatable structure. Designed to host performances and events when fully inflated, it is able when deflated to travel under the low bridges and tunnels of London’s canal network to different venues to moor.

’It’s a space with boat for a father and an airship for a mother,’ says Randall-Page. ’It’s intended for relaxation and performance. We’re looking to programme the space across different art forms – poetry readings, comedy nights and performance pieces. But it’s not suitable for dance! Having said that it would make for a great mosh pit.’

Antepavilion2 jimstephenson 4 webres

Antepavilion2 jimstephenson 4 webres

The PVC structure, titled AirDraft, sits on a repurposed barge and is able to accommodate an audience of up to 30, who lie on a cushioned inflatable layer, facing a small stage. The whole structure was built by Randall-Page and Rogers and a team of volunteers, with the inflatable part manufactured by Cameron Balloons and with the technical support from structural engineer AKTII. While not exactly sustainable (although ’PVC is recyclable’, points out Randall-Page), the design was inspired by the spirit of counter-culture: ’It’s a bit of a homage to the work of artist Jeffrey Shaw and the work of radical architecture practice Ant Farm from the late 1960s and 70s in particular.’

Certainly inside, even on a dull day, the space is remarkably spacious and bright – ‘It’s sunny even when it rains,’ says Randall-Page. The surrounding structure provides an impressively rigid-feeling space, with the cushioned floor raking gently down to the stage – although the rather strange acoustics of the PVC bubble may prove challenging for some of the performances planned over the coming days.  

Antepavilion2 jimstephenson 23 webres

Antepavilion2 jimstephenson 23 webres

In the evening it is lit internally by a string of LED bulbs, making it glow rather like a Chinese lantern – but during the day, it looks more akin to a large butternut squash. ’Yes, we wanted to steer it down the vegetable-shaped comparisons rather than other possible ones,’ says Randall-Page. 

Their design was chosen from more than 130 entries in an open competition run by Shiva Ltd in collaboration with the Architecture Foundation, with a brief to ’engage with the heritage of Regent’s Canal in innovative ways’. The shortlist this year also included Thomas Bates, Duman Studio, Max Dewdney Architects with No-To-Scale, and Kennedy Woods Architecture. It is the second in what’s becoming an annual series of experimental architectural structures by emerging architects – with last year’s commission won by a rooftop vent-like structure by PUP Architects.

’Supporting emerging practices has always been central to the Architecture Foundation’s mission so we were delighted to be collaborating with Shiva to create the Antepavilion programme,’ says Ellis Woodman, the Architecture Foundation’s director.

AirDraft will be the venue for a travelling festival of events and daily performances from 11 to 17 August, at five differing canal moorings including Granary Square in King’s Cross, the Constitution in Camden, the Rosemary Branch in Islington and Grow in Hackney Wick – see here for programme and booking details. 




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