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Certain tension: Pavilion in Indiana

The Underwood Pavilion was designed by professors Gernot Riether and Andrew Wit with a group of their students in a digital-design-build studio at the university in Muncie, Indiana. It was developed for the outskirts of the city of Muncie, a post-industrial area which has now been transformed into a recreational zone. The university has added a striking accent to the area, set among fishponds, apple trees and forests.

An interplay of aluminum rods, steel cable and textile shell gives the pavilion its extraordinary appearance. Its materials pay homage to the steel and textile industries formerly prevalent in the region. The construction comprises 56 modules, each of which is made of three pressure rods and kept in balance by a pull cable. The various geometric shapes of these modules, as well as their different sizes and radii of curvature, create the final form of the structure.

The shell of the pavilion is made up of Tensegrity modules. Based on Buckminster Fuller’s Tensegrity System, the structure is the result of the interplay of pressure rods which do not touch and tensed pull cables. With the aid of digital simulation programs, the designers were able to create a three-dimensional simulation of this principle, which is seldom used in architecture, and subsequently prefabricate and connect the component parts. For the final assembly of the pavilion, it was necessary only to connect and tense one cable for each module.

The arrangement of the modules has made it possible to realize a shady rest area inside the pavilion. What’s more, the shelter provides a view of the surrounding landscape. Each module is covered in an elastic textile membrane made of Elastan. This material consists entirely of renewable materials and reusable plastic. While the elastic shell covers all the pressure rods, the tensed components are visible from the outside, giving the pavilion its unique appearance.

Indiana’s Underwood Pavilion is more than an example of »art in public space« as an enrichment of the park: its striking look among the meadows and woods has become an attraction for design experts as well as other visitors. The tension-filled yet weightless composition of the Tensegrity modules has set new standards not only in terms of formal aesthetics, but also construction. 

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