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TOPIC: 2010: Scaling Up, The Commonwealth Pavilion
July 23rd, 2010

Tensility and the Commonwealth Pavilion

Simultaneous to our work on the visitor center, Sergio also has been commissioned to create a tensile structure for the Earth Awards in London that will also be utilized for ceremonial activities at the school and Naropa Palace.  Sergio’s conceptual idea has been to use salvaged Indian military parachutes to form the canopy of the tent as an adaptive re-use plan, with the image of the arms to plowshares as a guiding theme.

Sarah and Christine, both of whom have experience in tensile structures, have capitalized on this opportunity to offer us a tensile construction workshop.  With the majority of us having never worked with tensile structures, we were eager to take advantage of the basic introduction to these types of buildings.  Using rather difficult to find pantyhose and strips of cut t-shirts, we dove right in and explored the ‘wonders’ of double-curvature and catenary structures.

Based on Sergio’s concept, Sarah drew out the basic structure of the parachutes into a design, and we used this as a springboard for our design/build.  We did not proceed without challenges, however; the amorphous nature of fabric, rocks that mysteriously moved by themselves in the night, and the ranging winds of the Himalayas, all made our task more difficult – and more adventurous.

The marriage of the two parachutes to create the necessary double curvature has become quite the process.  It involves the erecting of the tent, creating patterns for openings and apertures, cutting once and cutting again, re-erecting, checking the cuts, re-cutting, stitching, patterning, un-stitching, re-plotting attachment points, color matching, dyeing fabric, re-stitching, re-re-cutting, all the while hoping that whatever mountain specter that has been hanging over our sewing machines would tire of its play and allow us to get some work done.

All in all, our familiarity with fabric has grown and our understanding of what it means to design and build at the same time has been uniquely challenged.  And maybe we will be able to say that we will get it right… right after we erect it for the 223rd time.

Alan Finch

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TOPIC: 2010: Scaling Up, The Commonwealth Pavilion
July 23rd, 2010