Wood & Panel

AHEC collaborates with Alison Brooks Architects and Arup for 2016 London Design Festival

 Monday, August 8, 2016

AHEC smile installationThe American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), the leading international trade association for the American hardwood industry, has announced its participation at the London Design Festival (LDF) 2016 in collaboration with Alison Brooks Architects (ABA) and Arup.

Brooks has designed ‘The Smile’, an urban installation that showcases the structural and spatial potential of cross-laminated timber (CLT) using American tulipwood. The Smile, which will be on display at the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground of the Chelsea College of Arts from September 17 until October 12, is one of the Festival’s Landmark Projects; a timber structure that can be inhabited and explored by the public.

With expertise from top engineering firm Arup, and using construction sized panels of hardwood CLT for the first time, Alison Brooks’ concept is a spectacular 3.5m high, 4.5m wide and 34m long curved rectangular tube – the first ever hardwood ‘mega-tube’.

Arup’s engineering team is working to derive the most efficient structural form, using only 60 cubic meters of wood to create a 150 square meter enclosed space. The forces of tension and compression working in the CLT walls will be expressed by perforations in its elevations. ABA has used these to generate patterns of light across The Smile’s interior spaces during the day; it will become an urban lantern at night.

Alison Brooks shared, “The Smile is a huge curved hollow tube made of cross-laminated tulipwood. It touches the ground at one point, like a wheel. Entering The Smile through an opening where the curved form meets the ground, the visitor can walk from end to end of the 34-meter-long tube to discover a new kind of space that gradually rises toward light. All four sides of The Smile’s interior will be made of the same beautiful hardwood panels as the structure. It will offer a complete sensory experience of color, texture, scent and sound. The Smile’s two open ends will illuminate the funnel-like interior space and act as balconies to the city.”

Brooks has designed the 34m pavilion to be entirely motionless, despite two swooping 12m cantilevered sections that appear hell-bent on teetering. The 12 industrial-sized tulipwood CLT panels, three of which are curved – supplied by German CLT pioneers, Züblin – run up to 14m long and 4.5m wide, some of the largest ever to make it into production. Even less plausible, they form an entirely self-balancing structure: no steel beams lie underground to support it. By fixing the CLT panels into a four-sided tube with 2,000 self-tapping screws, Brooks and engineers Arup, have effectively quadrupled its strength, enabling her to lift up the ends so they appear to defy gravity. To anchor it, the arc is bolted into a wood cradle loaded with concrete crane counterweights and buried a meter beneath the lawn.

Andrew Lawrence, Associate Director of Arup says, “The Smile is the most challenging structure ever constructed in CLT. Every aspect is pushed to the absolute limit. It really shows the potential for hardwoods in construction.”

Running across the capital from September 17 – 25, this year’s London Design Festival brings together architects, designers and artists for over 400 events spread across the capital. The Smile is one of only four Landmark Projects, which are site specific and appear in some of London’s most prominent and covetable spaces.

Ben Evans, Director of LDF comments: “The Landmark Projects are a key part of the Festival’s commissioning programme. They are at a scale that gets noticed and are always in major public places reaching a very wide audience. The choice of architect is key and Alison Brooks Architects are known for their innovative use of materials. Alongside a strong commitment to ambitious ideas they made an ideal choice for this year’s Landmark project with AHEC.”

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