Research journal entry 1- THE SEED CATHEDRAL

The other day I was recommended a series of architectural talks published on, the website that brings the minds of professionals to anyone who wants to learn.

The majority of these talks were good and informative, but the projects themselves  did not captivate my attention, this applied to all but one.

Thomas Heatherwick, with his design of  the British Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai Expo- The Seed Cathedral- blew my mind.

photo- Donald Fortescue

photo- Donald Fortescue

Like some kind of futuristic spaceship in its landing dock, the pavilion sits within a quarter of its site,  surrounded by an expanse of angular inclinations, covered in shimmering grey astroturf.

picture taken from Archdaily

picture taken from

Looking at the pavilion building critically, the shape is fundamentally a curved box, yet it is the materiality of this curved box which makes the impact. Made up of 60,000 acrylic rods extending from  the interior to the exterior, almost like strands of hair, the building looks almost like it is a computer generated image, or a 3D hologram hovering in the air.

picture taken from Archdaily

picture taken from

Light would obviously be considered to be a problem, as there are no conventional windows, but the rods, acting like fiber optic light strands, trap the natural light from the outside and bring it inside, adding to the, almost dreamlike, atmosphere.

photo- Frank Kaltenback, Munich

photo- Frank Kaltenback, Munich

What was really interesting about the project, is the angle the Heatherwick took when representing the UK. Opting out of the generic emblems of Britain, he chose instead to focus on the history the UK has with nature, and its integration of it into the country’s cityscapes, usually considered industrial. Hence, thousands of different seeds, taken from the Millennium Seed Bank Project Kew, London, were encased in the ends of the acrylic rods, creating a wall that also couples ad a display case.

photo- Christian Schittich,  Munich

photo- Christian Schittich, Munich

The Naturality in this project is interesting, considering the materials used to create it are all man made. The rods themselves move in the wind, due to their length, seeming almost alive. The site, seems almost like a park with hills, yet coordinates with the building in the way that, although not actually natural materially speaking, feels natural in approach.

In todays world, one so focused on environmental footprint, this building is a breath of fresh air, just looking at the building creates a sense of calm. Within this more abstract approach to naturality, a natural feel is achieved so much more effectively than buildings which use materials such as wood, and is a good path to go down for future architects. The problem with a lot of buildings today, is that they use basic geometrical shapes, such as the square, the rectangle, clean lines and angles in general, to such an extent that, although using natural materials, the effect is not natural in any way.

How can I use this inspiration in my Building? 

My building is one that cannot, by any means, have straight lines. The nature of the form of a fallen piece of fabric is completely curved, entwined and folded. At this point, I feel that that part, at least, is achieved.

The first thing that is learnt from the Seed Cathedral, is the importance of continuity from the exterior to the interior, this, I feel, is not achieved  very effectively by my building, as there is a distinct divide between the exterior and interior. Fallen Fabric needs to twist as if it is, in fact, one piece of cloth, flowing from outside to in and inside to out. The Seed Cathedral has done this quite simply, by having the rods pass directly through the walls, and also by coordinating the exterior space in colour and approach (astro turf has an appearance of little strands of hair) to the building.

Could the same be done in my case? At the moment, my building is set to be made of fabric formed concrete, but this would make it very difficult if I want to keep the ability to flow and change the interior space.

Could this possibly be done with colour?

Perhaps the appearance of continuity of material- instead of actual concrete use a material that could move but had the same feeling of the concrete?

Would it be possible to create a building out of a material that had the option to move? Fabric itself may be too flimsy but there must be a material that has the same properties of appearance, but is more hardwearing and supportive. This would therefore create a continuity of flow, both in the exterior and the interior.

These questions and more are to be tackled throughout the course of the research journal.


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