Glenn Murcutt's MPavilion Design Unveiled

John Hill
11. July 2019
Image: Two Feathers (All images courtesy of Naomi Milgrom Foundation)

A single rendering and a series of Murcutt's distinctive hand-drawn sketches reveal a simple design: a fabric roof stretched across steel trusses and supported on slender columns. The 30-meter-long pavilion is open on the long north and south sides, the latter fitted with operable blinds for weather protection as needed; the short ends have storage alcoves. LED lighting will be integrated into the roof structure so the fabric will glow like a lantern at night. (A teaser of the design can be seen, now in hindsight, in the photo that accompanied the February 2019 announcement of Murcutt's participation.)

Sketch by Glenn Murcutt

Murcutt's design exhibits some of the traits of the climatically responsive houses he is known for, particularly solid, curved roofs and transparent walls. But the wing-like form of the white MPavilion roof is fairly alien compared to the architect's own tin-roofed house. That's not an accident. Murcutt was inspired by an airplane wing — a particular airplane wing from a trip to Mexico. His story about it is worth quoting at length.

When I was designing the pavilion, during the very early period, I recalled a trip I made in Mexico about thirty years ago, to the Yaxchilán ruins, which were being restored at the time. I had been invited to see the ruins with a small group and we travelled by light aircraft to an airfield slotted amongst the tropical jungle. For lunch, we had a picnic in the shade provided by the wing of the aircraft. In the high humidity of the tropical climate we laid out a tablecloth on the ground establishing ‘place’. After lunch, I put my rucksack against the aircraft’s under carriage and laid down, and there above me was the beautiful wing, lined with aircraft fabric—which led me to the MPavilion’s roof—with the tablecloth as my place, together with my view the Yaxchilán, and the surrounding forest it was a wonderful moment. There was my beginning of the pavilion. The MPavilion has a flap along the edge of the roof, like the aileron on an aircraft wing, which allows the fabric membrane to stretch over it and shed water.

Glenn Murcutt

Sketch by Glenn Murcutt

Though inspired by and recalling an aircraft wing, and even incorporating Ceconite aircraft fabric into the underside of the roof trusses, the construction of MPavilion is highly architectural, rooted in the ground yet easily transportable. The latter is important given that each MPavilion has been relocated after its four-month duration, extending the lifespan of each iteration.

Sketch by Glenn Murcutt

Murcutt's contribution is the sixth iteration of MPavilion, which was started in 2014 by Naomi Milgrom as a temporary summer venue for cultural and educational events. Following Sean Godsell in that inaugural year, Murcutt is only the second Australian architect to design MPavilion. Others include Amanda Levete from Great Britain, Bijoy Jain from India, Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten from the Netherlands, and Carme Pinós from Spain.

MPavilion will be open in Queen Victoria Gardens from November 14, 2019, to March 22, 2020.

Glenn Murcutt and Naomi Milgrom (Photo: Timothy Burgess)

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