Observations through the spatial typology of pavilion

Formality, authority and concurrent innovation with exhibition methods

In the words of professor of cultural studies Ihor Junyk, Pavilion is ‘a self-consciously provisional structure’. The typology has been around for centuries, and its name originates from the Latin word papilio. It has been fluctuating between permanence and temporality, formality and informality, and has often been coerced into polemics of 20th-century submission and liberation. Used as a medium for architectural discourse within global art scene, and eventually appearing in social media feeds.

Pavilions as semantics of architectures’ aspatial meanings. 


Formality and authority in Pavilions

Informal pavilions appear within the history of the Roman Empire (200BC – 1450 AD) as temporary tents set up during military operations, resulting in the term papilio which translates to butterfly, later evolving to the French pavillon

Formal pavilions were initially prominent in the Eastern hemisphere, with the fundamental example of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan. The intervention was completed in 1397 and was situated in the housing complex of Yoshimitsu (King of Japan at the time), next to Kyoko-Chi (mirror pond). It was used by Yoshimitsu to awe his Chinese visitors, who were skeptical of the legitimacy of his ruling as a Shogun (commander-in-chief due to hereditary law). The interaction between pavilion and landscape is materialised by the omnipotent reflection of the golden leaf lining of its upper two floors, in regards to the ornamental golden phoenix situated at the center of the roof structure. Two co-dependent mechanisms demonstrating authority, prestige and longevity. The pond’s edges were lined with mountain rocks, which were also used to map the land-ownership of Yoshimitsu within the waters.

As European imperialism embarked on the Eastern cultures, colonialists started integrating pavilions within their formal context. The typology was predominantly used by landscape architects in the 17th and 18th century to address the needs of affluent populations. It was frequently the jewel, or aesthetic focus, of formal gardens. The pavilion shaped intended interactions within the landscape through visual and aesthetic symmetry, providing a public/private paradox for its users. However formal in its form, the pavilion was often experimental, and invited for purposeless activity within it, resulting in the folly typology. 

The typology within this era often resembled the imperialist vision of exotic. John Nash Royal Pavilion in Brighton is evidence for the inland experimentation with the Indo-Saracenic style; predominantly used in civic infrastructure within India in an attempt for the assimilation of the hostage culture through the normalisation of power aesthetics.

The 1851 exposition in London marked the beginning of pavilions as we know it by revolutionizing popular exhibition methods. The Glass Pavilion in Hyde Park housed the epitome of innovation and newness demonstrated by the exhibits of technological advancement of the western colonisers, and even colonised nations. With capitalism establishing itself as the primal Western system, the expositions provided means for the global popularisation of ideas and global demonstration of power. 

A global collective space for national pride within a culture of spectacle.

In the case of 1937 Paris exposition, the Nazi Germany’s pavilion Deutsche Haus is indicatory of monumentality and permanence persisting within the typology. Designed by Albert Speer on the basis of Hitler’s perception of the Nazi identity, the pavilion conjured an Ancient Greek antequity within German modernity. 

The pavilion reflected on Speer’s Ruin Value, which sought to develop buildings that commemorated the past and the present, but most importantly survived their death in time and provided for immaculate ruins. 

In its form, it symbolises the essence of superiority of the Nazis, as it defied any sense of human scale, standing taller than the rest of interventions in its physical context. It is a reference to the infinite existence of the Third Reich, and a subsequent terror tactic through the aesthetics of monumentality as propaganda. 

The 1958 Brussels exposition took place in the socio-political context of the Cold War, a convoluted and futile conflict between the Soviet Union and the USA. Both states formed pavilions that reflected upon the deep-rooted modernity within them. The Soviet Union exhibiting its greatest technological advancement, Sputnik Satellite, which was met by USA’s circular pavilion, exhibiting its democratic and cultural advancements, aiming to nurture the democracy/communism binary. The circular taxonomy of the USA Pavilion, which was designed by Edward Durrel Stone, represented the idea of a liberal society. 

Remarkably, the exhibition context provided for the dialogue between the two pavilions as they were situated opposite each other, raising questions on the role of expositions in regards to feuding global political affairs. The pavilions, in this case, were semiotic of war for ideology prevalence.


Pavilions in architectural discourse

Despite the profanity of totalitarianism observed in the history of pavilions, the typology has offered a medium for creative experimentation and critical architectural discourse. Of course, this supposes the condition of expositions as a vital tool for vulgarising styles.

One of the most influential pavilions still relevant today is the German Pavilion of 1929 by Mies Van Der Rohe in the Barcelona exposition. It challenged the audiences, presenting the pavilion as an exhibit in itself; reflective and sharp forms, transparency and the modernist way of thinking. The pavilion’s influence within architecture is indisputable as for many it established the modernist movement.

Revisiting pavilions, through the re-interpretation of their fundamental properties, provides for another form of architectural discourse within the 20th century.

Casa palestra by OMA presented the pavilion through a different lens by removing the hyperventilated mask of global architectural ancestry, exposing its turbulent history. A history in which the Barcelona Pavilion appears invisible and derelict within the events surrounding it, its form is destroyed and its materials are repurposed as decor for the institutional floors of Nazi Germany, or the locker rooms of disputed Olympic Games. OMA produced a written piece, ‘The discovery of Barcelona Pavilion’, along with a retake on the activity as performance, within an iterated, sensual in its form pavilion. Beatriz Colomina stresses the importance of revisiting by intervening within Pavilions, in Manifesto Architecture. She sees architecture as ‘an exchange of manifestos’ that have historically assumed the form of the pavilion.


Pavilions in 21st Century

Moving from the curatorial context of the 20th century and traversing through the era of popularisation in the face of social media, pavilions have both managed to stay modern in a capitalist sense and to further challenge the typology in itself. 

Since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery has accommodated pavilions by designers ranging from star architects to individual artists and indisputably showcased innovation within the typology.  The 2019 pavilion by Junya Ishigami, challenged current architectural methodologies by treating interior and exterior as landscape, creating a structural steel forest supporting a thick slate canopy.

Through the current cultural institutions, pavilions have infiltrated Instagram feeds and disintegrated into hashtags, successfully utilising the post-cyber fabric of every-day life. The prominent superficiality of consumer-based aesthetics, impelled pavilions into the dilemma of instagrammable architecture and art. This poses a threat to the authenticity of creativity through diminishing pieces to merely their aesthetic value; initiated by the capitalist data extraction that feeds into the predicting and manufacturing of consumer preferences. On the contrary, it can be viewed as integral to the process of creation as it bridges the gap between virtual and real curatorial context, manifesting itself temporarily on a screen in every typology of space. 

In retrospect, pavilions have provided a mean for stylistic and technological experimentation, as well as an expressive socio-political material reflecting on its current context by simultaneously informing it. In the process of understanding themselves, they attempt to inspect and exhibit needs of populations; the consumer, the merchant, the citizen, the user, the human.