Biomorphis Architects – Architects for ‘Data Pipe Dreams’

Biomorphis collaborated with Mark Kobine, design informatics and Tesco Bank to design and prefabricate a temporary exhibition ‘pavilion’ to showcase research work during the Edinburgh Art Festival. Part of the brief was for the pavilion to be assembled and fitted on George St in under three days by a team of researchers and students from the University of Edinburgh.

The concept for the exhibition pavilion grew from the nature of the work to be exhibited inside, looking into the dreams of a data driven future. It matured as a reflection on what data is and on what it might look like at a macro scale. One way to represent data could be to express the medium it travels in: wires and cables. Crucially the pavilion had to be inviting, playful and eye catching; despite its diminutive size, it had to be able to compete for attention during the extremely busy Edinburgh Art Festival.

Bright neon pool noodles were chosen to express the wires and cables while bringing extra playfulness to the exhibition inside. Pool noodles are extremely affordable, durable and waterproof; these are essential qualities to sustain the wet Edinburgh summers and the battering of festival goers. They also have a lesser known property: they transmit light. While most of the macro wires are not visible from the inside, their presence is revealed on the ceiling as they create a constellation of luminous dots inside the pavilion.
The core structure of the pavilion is made from off-the-shelf scaffolding components, namely galvanized steel tubes and clamps. They form the skeleton of the pavilion. The structure is cladded both inside and outside with painted OSB boards. The boards have been CNC machined to get the needed total of 2350 holes both inside and outside the pavilion. The inside panels have smaller holes which can be plugged with wooden pegs to suit the needs of the exhibition while the outside holes create sockets for the 1300 pool noodles which are plugged in and secured with wooden pegs.

The waterproofing of the pavilion is ensured by a clear polycarbonate inner roof and a discrete breather weaving in between the OSB boards. The membrane offers durable protection against condensation and lets the pavilion breath when its doors are closed at night.

Offsite prefabrication took place over few weeks within the Design Informatics workshop with a trial and error process to accommodate tolerances varying from raw scaffolding components to precise CNC cut sheeting and interactive installations inside.

The pavilion and the Data Pipe Dreams exhibition were conceived simultaneously, pushing collaborative design where architects, designers and makers have work together to make a truly unique creature which certainly brings joy and plenty of smiles on George St this August.

Pierre Forissier details the process of the design and build and what each team learned from the experience:

biomorphis is an interdisciplinary architecture practice founded in 2011. The practice is led by Adriana Koluszko and me, both architects and experienced designers. Our Edinburgh based studio created its identity through independent civic architectural proposals like the Leith Bridge and also innovative art installations which consistently engage with the public. We are passionate about local community projects which so far have ranged from temporary street huts for local school kids in Leith, to real life Minecraft picnics installations, via flat-pack exhibition spaces for the University of Edinburgh.

The data Pipe Dreams pavilion is a collaboration with designer-maker Mark Kobine and Design Informatics. This is the second time we have collaborated on a temporary installation that forms part of the Assembly Festival site on George Street. The design process is an open discussion between all of us. It grows from the mutual trust we have in each other’s expertise. Every idea is 3D modelled, tested and discussed between us, from its narrative to its practical implementation. We constantly had to visualise each piece to be lifted and assembled by a team of non-professionals on site. Ideas were individually tested indoor and one more time with a complete pavilion pre-assembly prior to the build on George st.

The 3D model was developed as a parametric model (number, colours & density were some of the parameters) which enabled us to paint wire patterns and to see the software model them in real-time for the team to quickly visualise. This model also allowed us to directly extract CAD files for the CNC machining of the OSB panels.

This collaboration taught us a lot about architecture in terms of sequencing as architects don’t necessarily think about the order of parts to be assembled on site. In our case, this was crucial when the slightest conception error could result in needing to take down the whole structure to fit clamps which literally can’t be clipped-on but have to be sleeved in on the tubes. This could have probably resulted in missing the strict three day installation window.

This collaboration also showed us how to creatively work with off-the-shelf components in order to stay within the allocated tight budget, while pushing the design as far as we could. While we knew many standard materials can be hacked to go beyond their original geometry, we still had a fair amount of experimenting to do. For example, we were not sure if the double curvature of the roof could be achieved from flat corrugated sheets so had to try with the real thing and see for ourselves. The 3D model was positive but we still had to deal with the particular physical properties of what we could order. And in this case, it actually worked beyond our expectations.

We are now looking forward to analysing where things can be improved for next year and how the design will evolve. The team has plenty of ideas!”