1/26/09

The remembrance of pavilions past


Maybe some of you were around Vancouver's environs in 1976 when Arthur Erickson's Habitat Pavilion briefly existed, created for UN Conference of Human Settlement that ran for two weeks in June of that year.

The pavilion's roof is a set of hyperbolic paraboloids created with paper-mache. Sections of the roof were created by about two thousand Lower Mainland children, who paper-mached over the molds in the factory and later painted designs onto the cured skin.

Originally the pavilion was meant to spread over the entire length of the Courthouse Square, but as it was running more than two times over its allocated budget, it was downsized. As a result the pavilion lost a third of its initial breadth - right in the middle no less - resulting in two pavilions flanking either side of that unwieldy and, frankly, even-then outdated fountain.

Erickson saw the pavilion as an experiment that could be a solution to housing issues all over the world. He chose paper as the obvious material for it - obviously abundant in Vancouver and oftentimes wasted: "We are not building something useless that will be thrown away in a few weeks as most people seem to think. [] We are doing something extremely useful that will be very applicable to building problems in Third World countries." (Although you have to wonder how much (news)paper did the Third World have to recycle. From experience, it really is a problem of well-developed economies ).

There is a fantastical quality to this building, now nothing more than Vancouver's ephemeral past. From Vancouver Sun's Moira Farrow: "Erickson said the pavilion should not be judged as a structure with a limited lifespan but as a 'prototype mock-up of ideas with unlimited possibilities yet to be fully explored'. "

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Great post. It's funny - I was setting out to write about Habitat 76 myself, and found this on a Google search. And now, fortunately or unfortunately, I don't need to write my own post. I loved that Arthur Erickson pavilion. (I remember sitting outside as a kid and watching teenage volunteers with long branding irons in the shape of that great Habitat logo. They'd heat them in a bonfire and then would brand anything we brought to them - cardboard, driftwood. That's the kind of thing that could happen around a UN conference in the 70s!) As as an aside, it's interesting that so much current disaster shelter architecture has now returned to the idea of paper - the work of Shigeru Ban and others. Anyway, thanks for this post!