Melbourne's plentiful parklands have no shortage of shady trees under which to relax on a balmy summer evening, but a new addition to the city's gardens offer a different way to wind down. The recently constructed MPavilion in the center of the arts precinct features a ceiling made of translucent, sound- and light-emitting leaves that emulate the motions of a forest canopy by swaying in the breeze.
Opened earlier this month, the multipurpose MPavilion will play host to a range of talks, workshops, performances and art installations over the coming summer months. The designer, award winning British architect Amanda Levete, set out to "create a sensation of a forest canopy in the heart of the city that gives shelter to a program of events."
This resulted in a design for a parkland pavilion consisting of ultra-thin, semi-transparent petals that transmit both sound and light, propped up by a swarm of slender carbon fiber poles that flex just enough in the wind. All sounds simple enough, right? Well, to bring this futuristic forest to life, Australian engineering company MouldCAM would need to get creative.
"The architect envisaged a forest canopy that could interact with the wind," Richard Halverson, design manager at MouldCAM, explains to Gizmag. "We needed to make sure it was practical engineering-wise. The hardest part with the design of the canopy was the strength that it requires to stop the petals from drooping, while still maintaining that transparency."
With the petals only measuring a few millimeters in thickness, yet up to five meters (16.5 ft) across, the engineers faced a tricky balancing act to maintain the integrity of the structure, while still allowing for the desired lighting effect. This led them in search of advanced composite materials that could offer both the transparency and rigidity required.
"We took the concept from the surfboard industry," says Halverson. "They use a lot of transparent resins, cloths and fiberglass to put outer shells on surfboards. This was the starting point. We ended up bridging aeronautical and surfboard engineering to push the boundaries of composite materials."
Preventing the much-feared drooping also meant incorporating an innovative design element known as carbon toes. This sees very fine, fishing line-thin strands of carbon fiber sprawl outwards from the center of each petal all the way to the edges, affording them the extra stiffness needed to maintain their shape.
The upright carbon fiber poles that uphold the canopy are hollow, allowing wires run inside to feed hidden speakers and LED bulbs crowning each pole. As the sun goes down on the city each evening, these combine as part of a daily sunset ritual, emitting a gentle, soothing soundtrack of percussion instruments as the LEDs dance between different colors and patterns overhead.
Over the next few months, the MPavilion will host everything from meditation sessions to David Bowie quizzes and fashion shows. Nestled in the lush, riverside Queen Victoria Gardens only a few minutes walk from the city center, this unique setting is sure to catch the eye of locals, the after-work crowd and those just passing by. Events run up until February 7 next year.
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