Designing today’s high-tech automobiles often begins with a decidedly low-tech block of clay.
Graduate students in the School of Architecture and Design have been hard at work on "The Gridshell," an open air pavilion located in the middle of a proposed sculpture park on Camellia Boulevard, since the summer of 2014. As it nears completion, co-ordinating faculty member Geoff Gjertson has a few words of reflection to share:
"Over three years ago a faculty member, Ted Cavanagh, brought his architecture students down from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia to visit Lafayette. At that time and every year since, we take his students on tours of projects our students have built. There is a sort of sister school mentality.
Two years ago, Professor Cavanagh asked me to be a part of a huge grant he was writing to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada. The proposal, called Thinking While Doing, involved multiple universities doing design build projects to help their communities and subsequent knowledge mobilization of best practices and innovative construction techniques.
We received the grant worth $2.5 million Canadian dollars. Through various workshops in Nova Scotia and North Carolina, it was decided by the team that the first project would be four gridshell structures (a structural system employing thin wood members in catenary double curves in compression- in other words a very efficient, lightweight system which can span large distances.
Dalhousie University has already completed their gridshell in Cheticamp, Cape Breton, we are next in line. Arizona is beginning theirs and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will follow.
UL Lafayette's gridshell began planning and development in the summer of 2014. Through discussions with Gerd Wuestemenn of the ACA and Joey Durel City/Parish President, it was decided that this innovative and sculptural structural system would lend itself to a park pavilion in the future Camellia Blvd. Art Park. Joey selected the site on the median between River's Bend Subdivision, ST. Barnabas Church, and Camellia Blvd.
During the fall 2014 semester, my 9 graduate students began the design process using both physical models and computer models and working closely with engineers in Canada. Through presentations to various groups a design was selected and a half-size model was built to test the system.
The design of the gridshell springs from the elliptical footprint which is 30' x 40'. A catenary curve is a curve that a rope makes when held at both ends and suspended. The gridshell takes this form in reverse. It springs to approximately 15' and includes lighting, seating, a storage area, and a dedication and signage area, the program of the gridshell included an outdoor classroom for future art education, religious services, and just a place for rest a shade for walkers and joggers along Camellia Blvd. An initial sculpture by Russell Whiting will be installed near the gridshell and eventually up to 50 other sculptures will be placed in the green belt on either side of Camellia from Johnston Street to the River.
Students collaborated with JB Mouton, Begneaud Manufacturing, Metalhead and others to design, fabricate and build the gridhshell. The groundbreaking ceremony occurred the day after the tragic theater shootings in Lafayette the summer of 2015. Soon after, the students and faculty decided to dedicate the gridshell, the Lafayette Strong Pavilion to commemorate the response of unity and strength of the community following the shootings.
During the fall of 2015, my 11 graduate students have erected the gridshell, connected the nodes, and installed the cladding. Seating, lighting, and landscaping will be installed in the next few weeks, In addition, the city is installing sidewalks to connect the pavilion to the main sidewalk.
For me the gridshell is a beautiful sculptural form which blurs the boundary between art and architecture. It has been challenging since very few of these types of structures exist (in fact ours is the only one I know of in the US.) So I have been learning as well as the students. This makes for high risk and excitement. It will surely be one of the most amazing and unique structures I will ever have the chance to work on. On January 2 the Pavilion will be dedicated and openned to the public. It is my hope that through experiencing the gridshell, whether driving by or occupying its shady space, citizens will be challenged and will question "what is architecture? and "what is beauty?""