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H-VAC by PUP Architects: upping the antepavilion

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The Architecture Foundation’s first Antepavilion commission playfully subverts planning permissions

There is an entire genre of film and video game that is conjured by the humble ventilation duct: from John McClane to Batman or even Alien, the uses of these hidden routes have imbued them with a sense of espionage and the uncanny, an unsurveilled means of bypassing a structure’s boundaries, albeit one that has since proven too small for aspiring thieves and spies. Architecture has, of course, not been immune to this. Although manifested more commonly in the colourful pipework of hi-tech or oddities like Ludwig Leo’s Pink Pipe in Berlin, the allure of the vent, ducting and pipework, remains.


‘We started seeing them as rooms and corridors,’ says Theo Molloy of architecture and design trio PUP, referring to the sculptural twisting duct forms and plant units that crown countless office structures in London. It was these forms that inspired Molloy, Chloë Leen and Steve Wilkinson’s winning design for a provocative ‘Antepavilion’ in Hoxton: the H-VAC.

The competition, launched by The Architecture Foundation and supported by developer Shiva, is the first in what will become an annual series, seeking to explore and provoke alternative ways of living in the city through projects by emerging designers. PUP, chosen from 128 entries, were invited to use Shiva’s Columbia Wharf site – a warehouse building now occupied by offices and artists’ studios – as a workshop to construct the pavilion that would sit on the roof.

Hvac jimstephenson 2 webres

Hvac jimstephenson 2 webres

Source: Jim Stephenson

Here, subterfuge is still on the agenda: H-VAC is designed as a prototype that sneakily subverts planning legislation, an MEP Trojan Horse that exploits the permitted development of rooftop plant structures up to 5m on existing buildings. Asking for trouble, perhaps, but Shiva is no stranger to clashes with the council; eyebrows were raised when the Flood House by Matthew Butcher (a judge for the Antepavilion) was erected on a roof nearby, as well as a beach house and a cardboard ‘Wikkelhouse’.

The UK’s planning system is one that often feels designed to be ‘gamed’, and Russell Gray, Shiva’s founder, is certainly rising to the challenge, although he believes the council’s attention would be better directed at the neglected 19th-century Haggerston Baths opposite, or indeed towards the luxury apartment blocks springing up along Regent’s Canal that probably secured planning permission more easily than H-VAC could (had it tried).

The timber frame of the pavilion is clad in some three thousand shingles created from Tetra Pak cartons – specifically, peach iced tea cartons. Cut and folded to conceal the edges that would allow in moisture, the shingles have been attached with the straw hole concealed (lest a well-aimed bird-peck compromise the skin) and overlap to cover the fixings, creating a scale-like shell. PUP explain how, until recently, most used Tetra Pak cartons were transported to India to be recycled. Its impermeability makes it an effective short-term cladding material with the potential to be used for disaster relief structures.

Hvac jimstephenson 24 webres

Hvac jimstephenson 24 webres

Source: Jim Stephenson

Originally designed to simply sit atop the roof, the project ended up punching a hole through it, with a staircase connecting it to an artist’s studio on the Wharf’s first floor. It’s a neat trick which, provided you have approached from Laburnum Street and have avoided the aerial photographs, means your first experience of H-VAC will be from the inside. It also helps to push the disguise about the pavilion ‘serving’ the building a little bit further, although the council may still not be convinced.

With five beehives for neighbours, it has a touch of the playful personality of the Villa Arpel in Jacque Tati’s Mon Oncle, popping up periscope-like to ogle the estate opposite (unless the grille-like louvres are closed). A pot plant and two benches constitute the interior, roughly large enough comfortably seat six. Perfectly suited, perhaps, for intimate readings or performances, although the only chance for the public to view the Antepavilion after its opening weekend on 5-6 August will be during Open House weekend on 16-17 September. 

Will it help solve the housing crisis? Probably not. But after summer’s rash of cobbled-together pavilions it is a refreshingly well-resolved, playful and meaningful project.

A1 colour

A1 colour

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Can we assume that the people sat on the edge of the roof of the building as shown in the picture are authorized personnel who are there to carry out some kind of roof inspection and that they are all wearing harnesses under their clothing with lanyards to a safety line on the roof?

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