Size + Matter, it could be said, was one of the most viewed events of the London Design Festival last month. Two installations by two of the U.K.'s leading architects—both women—were placed outside the cultural hub that is the Southbank Centre that thousands of people walk by everyday. Urban Nebula by Zaha Hadid used pre-cast concrete to create a darkly dramatic public seating sculpture. (Pictured right.) Prototile by Amanda Levete of Future Systems used Corian® to create a modular screen structure as a spacial intervention. (Pictured below.) I checked in with Amanda about how and why she got involved in this project.
Can you tell us what the origins of this commission were?
The project Size + Matter was commissioned by Ben Evans who is the director of the London Design Festival. It was about the idea of taking a material and exploring it in ways that haven't been done before, so that you push its boundaries both technically and aesthetically.
For me that was really interesting because there was no brief in terms of its function, it was really a very abstract way of looking at something. So I thought I could explore the ideas that I am looking at in buildings at a scale that's really large; that is somewhere in between a building and a piece of furniture.
Were you able to choose your material? Did you choose Corian®?
Yes, I love using it, but we've always used it in interiors and facing materials, it's never been used structurally before and I wanted to demonstrate that you could use it as a self supporting structure.
And the concept behind your installation?
There was this idea of the repetition of the motif and creating a screen, but one without a boundary. It is perforated and is about the relationship of solid to void. It is quite a complex double-layered system and double curvature. So the idea is that you can reassemble it in any form. There are obviously limits to the height because of the structural properties, but it does show that with a single motif you can create very complex forms.
What interests you most about the form you've used?
The shadows that are cast on the ground rather like the leaves of a tree, the dappled sunlight and that it can work as a shade structure, or a shelter, but really it has no program to it.
Where did you get your inspiration for this modular form?
There are architectural projects I am looking at where we’re creating a screen or a mesh, that is half-glazed and half-solid and just exploring how and what motif you take to do that. Looking at a leaf form, organic shapes and the dappled tree effect was definitely a starting point.
Then it became more geometric?
Yes, it needed to because using it structurally you have to make sure that all the forces go down in a certain predictable way, otherwise it wouldn’t have been safe.
Why do think Corian® is such an exciting material?
It’s an entirely man-made material; it has a certain quality to it, a sort of lustre and depth. It looks a bit like marble, yet it doesn’t pretend to be marble and when you place it against sunlight rather than backed against something solid, which it usually is, it has a completely different quality.
What have you got out of creating this installation as an architect?
Well I was just exploring how we could use this material in the future and it has certainly led me to think about it in a different way. We will think about using it in other projects that we maybe we wouldn’t have thought about before.
Do you now think that Corian® can be used as a structural material?
You can use it architecturally as a facing material, but it’s not designed, made or tested yet to use it structurally. This is why this was such a good opportunity to explore that idea, both for ourselves and Corian® because for a material like this to be used structurally it takes a huge amount of time, months of complex safety testing, etc. So it’s nowhere near that, but it’s about where it might go and to challenge how we see certain materials.