The 2016 London Design Festival has one of the most unusual and intriguing landmarks: a giant smile. The installation was designed by architect Alison Brooks and was displayed here in the interval 17th September – 12 October. It’s a structure that stretches the materials to the limit. It’s built using CLT (cross-laminated timber) and high-performance hardwood. It’s the most complex CLT structure ever built.
The entire installation is 34 meters long and 3 meters high and was made entirely of tulipwood. The most interesting detail, however, is its shape. It was designed with two open ends that are curved upward. These two open ends serve as viewing platforms. The structure as a whole is shaped like an upside down arc.
Visitors can enter the installation through the only door and ramp which are integrated into the central portion. They can then walk up the slope to reach one of the two viewing platform from where they can admire the surroundings.
The walls are perforated with series of oval holes which range from 12 to 20 cm in size. They filter in the daylight and allow visitors to peak outside. Their role is mostly decorative and these small holes also add a touch of playfulness to the whole ensemble, making the installation more interactive and engaging.
The project stretches materials to the limit. CLT is incredibly strong but also light and these two characteristics combined allow the installation to be easy to put together, structurally solid and also user-friendly. The tulipwood used for the project is also characterized by a series of beautiful and interesting details which result in a clean, sleek, warm and rich look overall.
A total of 12 large CLT panels were used and six of these are curved. Around 6.000 long screws hold the entire installation together. The shape of the installation posed a few problems. For example, because it has 12 meter long cantilevered arms, it resembles a giant see-saw. The entire team had to find a way to make sure that the structure doesn’t move like a rocking chair, not even when several people are gathered on one end while the other one is empty.
To ensure the stability of the installation and to prevent rocking, the whole structure was anchored down to a large wooden cradle filled with 20 tonnes of steel counterweights. This way it retains its shape at all times and the resemblance to a see-saw is less apparent. In fact, the installation looks more like a smile and that’s exactly what the design promotes.
At night, when the lights are turned on inside, the structure looks like a giant lantern when seen from the side. At the same time, there are accent lights which highlight its interesting and unusual shape and make the sturdy base stand out, revealing the entrance.