Alison Brooks Brings The Smile to London

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A gravity-bending structure by Alison Brooks Architects at the London Design Festival highlights the flexibility of cross-laminated timber.

London-based architect Alison Brooks has designed an uplifting – literally – installation to grace the grounds of the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground of the Chelsea Collage of Arts. When it opens September 17, The Smile pavilion – developed in collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council and Arup – will put the structural and spatial potential of cross-laminated timber on full display. Made from 12 industrial-sized panels of tulipwood CLT, the 34-metre-long tunnel-like structure rises to a height of 6.4-metres on each end, bending to form a grin-like shape.

One of this year’s London Design Festival Landmark Projects, The Smile invites wonder both when viewed from the outside and when exploring the interior. While it appears to balance on the grounds like a seesaw, ready to teeter over at any moment, it is in fact fixed in place by a load of steel weights buried just one metre below the lawn. Entering through a passage where the arch meets the ground, visitors can wander through the uniformly 3.5-metre-high-by-4.5-metre-wide tunnel and up the gradual incline of the ramps, where balconies with glass balustrades at either end provide views to the college, the city beyond and the sky.

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Punctures along every wall filter in sunlight, creating constantly shifting patterns as daylight turns to dusk. At night, linear light strips illuminate the interior, showing off the compelling curves of the panels, and emitting a glow through the holes to the effect of a lantern.

Whether approaching the pavilion from afar or meandering through its interior, The Smile offers, as Brooks describes, “a sensory experience of colour, texture, scent and sound.”

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