Pavilions Inhabit the Space Between Art and Architecture

Emilee Geist

This article is part of our latest Design special report, which is about taking creative leaps in challenging times. On Valerie Schweitzer’s front lawn in Water Mill, N.Y., a structure of intersecting cylinders, thrust aloft on posts and partly enclosed by vertical cedar boards, reaches for the sky. Is it […]

This article is part of our latest Design special report, which is about taking creative leaps in challenging times.

On Valerie Schweitzer’s front lawn in Water Mill, N.Y., a structure of intersecting cylinders, thrust aloft on posts and partly enclosed by vertical cedar boards, reaches for the sky.

Is it a building? A sculpture? An apparatus for play?

Ms. Schweitzer’s ethereal pavilion is all of those things and something more — a physical manifestation of her architectural dreams.

“I had this poetic idea of a structure that could simulate nature,” said Ms. Schweitzer, a New York-based architect. “It looks like the regenerating forest: big pods, little pods and varying elevations like branches.”

For years, she had experimented with similar pavilions on a computer screen while taking part in architectural competitions. When her mother-in-law saw the digital renderings, she commissioned Ms. Schweitzer to finally build one. Lacking the space for a pavilion at her Los Angeles home, she asked Ms. Schweitzer to erect it on the architect’s own lot.

The project follows a long tradition of small-scale structures that grow out of experiments with form, materials, space planning and construction methods. For centuries, landscape designers have enlivened gardens with pint-size follies resembling Greek and Roman temples, elaborate tents or hermit huts.

Whether temporary or permanent, such structures inhabit the space between art and architecture and are largely freed from the rigorous requirements of most residential and commercial buildings, where building codes inform many design decisions. By allowing for unbridled creativity, pavilions can offer glimpses of architecture’s potential, even before all the kinks are worked out.

Now they are looking for partners in the building industry to deploy their techniques on a larger scale — “taking the next step toward residential housing,” Mr. Zivkovic said.

But “the moment people tell us it’s impossible, of course we have the reflex to say, ‘Let’s do it,’” said Mr. De Man, whose firm went on to work with Grown.bio to develop just such a material.

“We strongly refer to ourselves as architects,” he said, “and strongly believe what we produce is about space and architecture.”

Although experimental pavilions may not always seem as practical as traditional buildings, they routinely serve many important functions, from hosting public exhibitions to providing spaces for contemplation — and sometimes even fulfill needs their designers never imagined.

Ms. Schweitzer completed her pavilion in February. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, she, her husband and their two teenage daughters found it surprisingly useful as an open-air home office and guesthouse (the largest of the cylinders is equipped with mosquito netting).

“My daughter had a friend spend the night,” Ms. Schweitzer said. “We weren’t going to let her sleep in the house, but she slept on a mattress out there.”

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