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Castle in the Air: Antepavilion 3 by Maich Swift Architects

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The three-storey rooftop structure by a canal in Haggerston is built of laminated veneer lumber and will host a two-month programme of performances

Antepavilion 3 has been designed by young practice Maich Swift Architects, a practice founded by Ted Swift and Paul Maich who both previously worked at Caruso St John. The structure is the third to win the annual ’experimental architecture’ competition run by Shiva Ltd in collaboration with the Architecture Foundation. The previous winners are PUP Architects in 2017 with its rooftop vent-like structure, and last year Benedetta Rogers and Thomas Randall-Page with an inflatable event space on a barge

Maich Swift’s winning design, chosen from 188 entries, was fabricated and erected at the Columbia and Brunswick Wharf site in east London in a more prominent rooftop position than previously, appropriate to this year’s loose brief to design a ’beacon’. While the beacon itself is a fairly downplayed red element atop one corner of the structure, Maich Swift has taken the opportunity to make a striking tower-like structure to support it, which is constructed from a laminated veneer lumber (LVL) structural frame. This rises off a steel base plate, with the whole part-prefabricated at ground level, then craned into place and bolted together. 

Maich swift potemkin theatre 2019 dg 53

Maich swift potemkin theatre 2019 dg 53

’We wanted to find a structure that could be built quickly but well – and which needed to be lightweight, so it could be easily lifted. The largest prefabricated element weighed 250kg,’ says Swift.

The Antepavilion was built by Maich Swift Architects with construction assistance from a team of volunteers over 25 days during June and July, and technical support from AKT II engineering.

The design is fairly awash with architectural echoes and reference points, not least that indicated by its ’Potemkin Theatre’ title, invoking the stage-set façades of faux villages erected by Grigory Potemkin to fool his lover Catherine the Great into thinking that Russia was covered in prosperous settlements. The practice also cites the film set home of Monsieur Hulot in Jacques Tati’s 1958 film Mon Oncle as an inspiration – but the design also echoes hill-top follies and temporary 1920s agitprop Constructivist structures (if rather more orthogonal). 

Maich swift potemkin theatre 2019 dg 42

Maich swift potemkin theatre 2019 dg 42

While the Antepavilion is not as shallow in depth as originally intended – having needed beefing up for structural and wind-load reasons – it still plays an effective Janus-faced game, with a relatively solid canal-side façade contrasting with a more skeletal open structure seen from the south. The contrast is further underlined by a change of colour – from turquoise to yellow – painted on to cladding panels made of stretched canvas nailed to the structure, nicely recalling theatre flats, and which are intended for artists to repaint and transform during the life of the pavilion.  

This film set and stage set heritage also informs the pavilion’s intended use as a galleried backdrop and passive performer in a two-month programme of performances, discussions and events taking place throughout August and September, held on the adjacent roof. ’We didn’t want it to be just be an object without function,’ says Swift.

The programme, named the Beacon Festival and supported by a grant from Arts Council England, includes work by Roland Smith, Shadwell Opera and Oren Safdie, and a symposium exploring the relationship between architecture and immersive performance.

121 l15 01

121 l15 01

North and west elevations

Architect’s view

This proposal for a small theatre draws on the changing use and cultural significance of the canalside location, and presents a bold face to the Regent’s Canal. On one side the canal frontage has a flat, abstract image; the composition and arrangement of windows and stairways is a reimagination of Monsieur Hulot’s building in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. On the other side open galleries overlook the rooftop and surrounds. Potemkin generally describes a false or deceptive appearance; we are interested in the way it suggests the revealing of the structure behind a lively and colourful frontage.

The architectural concept has an emphasis on flexibility in use, and will provide a variety of space with the potential for a wide range of public events. The two-sided aspect lends itself to engagement from both the canalside and the rooftop. Theatrical productions, opera, small concerts and film screenings will all form part of a cultural programme.

Ted Swift and Paul Maich, Maich Swift

121 c21 01

121 c21 01

Constructional axonometric

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