Super team building the Oxymoron Pavilion, OBRA Architects, Beijing and New York
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HKSZ Biennale Ultra-light village
Shenzhen, China
December 2011

Will the current ubiquitous environmentalism save our cities and the world? The development of the project for an Ultralight Pavilion in Shenzhen presents to us an opportunity to suspend relative disbelief and attempt an exemplary contribution.

Beyond the quantifiable benefits of "lightness" in architecture as a strategy towards the preservation of scarce resources, the idea of the Ultralight Village appears as a providentially appropriate way to consider the nuances of interdependence between architecture, the city and the environment.

A work of architecture in the city is traditionally regarded as belonging to one of two types, either a monument or a part of the fabric. The monument celebrates momentous events, perpetuates foundational myths or aggrandizes the humanities of celebrated individuals; the fabric is everything else and creates the context in which monuments can exist. The monuments are symbols, "exemplary" and artificial moments in the city. Precisely because their role is to perpetuate certain conditions, they are deprived of the possibility of changing—ergo all that stone and bronze. Unchanged, they are confident and certain, the architectural equivalent of an unshakable conviction, of pure faith, they are lifeless. Life is happening elsewhere in the doubt, confusion and chaos that can typically be found in the city’s fabric.

The Ultralight Village of the Shenzhen Biennale is an oxymoron, a beautiful self-contradiction both monumental and ephemeral. This paradox becomes our guiding principle in the development of this modest work of architecture. This little building can become a salute to the millions of souls living in Shenzhen. Like most other people that live in other gigantic metropolises of the earth, they share a life unfolding amongst the fragments of a larger reality no one understands, and their lives may be sometimes overwhelmed by diffidence and hesitation. This pavilion can be an anti-monument to them, an ephemeral monument for those who do not want to impose their opinion or perpetuate their situation. A pavilion as an ephemeral “monument,” an Oxymoron Pavilion.

The pavilion will be built over a weighted plywood platform and defined by two coiling steel angles of a section of 6cmx6cm, 112 wood structural members of a section of 4cmx4cm and a skin of translucent parachute nylon. At night, interior lights will project shadows of the pavilion's structure and its visitors over the translucent nylon skin proposing a dynamic "facade" that becomes an announcement of the building's use.

The geometry of the structure approximates the structural benefits and material economies of circular structural schemes reducible to tension or compression rings. But the immutable stasis of a circular geometry can, as if contaminated by an awareness of time, be transformed into the spiral's dynamically changing parameters and theoretical capacity for infinite growth or decline. Compared with the stability of the circle, the spiral suggests a loss of certainty for the future, an Oxymoron Pavilion for the uncertain future of urban life.