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Reflections on Soane: IF_DO’s Dulwich Picture Gallery pavilion opens

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The pavilion’s design is a contemporary response to Soane’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, marking its 200th anniversary as well as the launch of the London Festival of Architecture

The structure consists of a series of 5.5m-high, 50mm-thick mirrored panels, only three of which are structural – the rest being moveable – supporting a lightweight timber and metal mesh roof. The roof appears to float above the panels’ reflective surfaces, which optically disappear at different angles, scrambling views of the monolithic brick façades of Soane’s gallery and its landscape setting – making nature and architecture appear to merge.

The pavilion will provide a temporary events space and bar for the gallery, allowing for an expansion of its events programme before it closes on 8 October. These events will include a series of Friday Lates, with lectures and music, all celebrating the 200 years since the gallery opened its doors as the first public art gallery in the world.

IF_DO won a competition run jointly with the London Festival of Architecture, beating 75 other proposals last year. The pavilion is the first new-build completion for the young Bermondsey-based practice, which was set up in 2014 by Al Scott, Sarah Castle and Thomas Bryans.

Their design responded to what was a simple functional brief: ‘Basically it was to seat around 150 people under a waterproof structure with a bar,’ says Scott. But the need to respond to Soane’s architecture proved more of a challenge. ‘His architecture is a massive inspiration to most architects. Take Dulwich Picture Gallery: if you take a bit of the ornament off it, it’s a Modernist building: very ahead of its time. 

Dulwich May17 MG 0291

’But we didn’t want to be too literal. We also set out to invert his architecture – replacing the monolithic gallery walls with walls which open out to the landscape and blur with it. We also wanted to reflect the playfulness and drama his architecture has. At the Sir John Soane’s Museum for instance, there are several rooms with moveable panels that open up to hidden spaces.’

IF_DO has echoed this flexibility in the mirrored panels which can be rearranged to provide several different formats, including a fully enclosed mini ’hall of mirrors’ for seated dinners and lectures. The proportions of these panels are also taken from Soane’s façade, while the depth of the lightweight timber roof is the same as that for the timber lanterns above the galleries.

To realise the pavilion, which is supported by Almacantar, IF_DO worked closely with the engineers StructureMode, whose director Geoff Morrow jokes that the only brief was ‘to make the timber roof floating without visible support’. The structure they designed does this very effectively, generated by a module of 50mm to minimise timber and material, a thickness that is maintained even for the three structural cross-braced structural panels, although in places near-invisible 2mm sheets of steel reinforcement have had to be added at some connections for strength. This all maintains the perception of simplicity and a ‘look-no-hands’ appearance for the pavilion’s ’floating roof’ structure as it was originally designed. ’The design hasn’t been watered down – it’s exactly as we imagined,’ says Scott, and both architects and engineers have nothing but praise for the close collaboration with the fabricator Weber Industries.

The visual effect intended has evidently worked, as when Scott was standing next to two old ladies who were looking at the pavilion during construction, he heard one say: ‘Well, it is strange that they put the roof up before they put the structure up’.

1701 Elevation

Project data

Start on site date 26 April 2017
Completion 26 May 2017
Gross internal area 192m²
Form of contract JCT Minor Works with CDP
Construction cost £110,000
Architect IF_DO
Client Dulwich Picture Gallery, London Festival of Architecture and Almacantar
Fabricator Weber Industries
Structural engineer StructureMode
CAD software Vectorworks/Rhino

1701 Detail Axo

1701 Detail Axo

Source: IF_DO

Detail Axonometric

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