Flowers in the Snow: Architecture, Entropy and Temporariness

Tim Ingleby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The Swiss engineer Heinz Isler was a pioneer in the field of thin shell structures. He developed a series of form-finding methods that have informed the design of hundreds of reinforced concrete shells. Isler prototyped the most influential of these by taking advantage of his homeland’s frigid alpine winters: hanging sheets of saturated fabric overnight and returning to frozen forms that inverted became freestanding free-form shells. A little-known footnote to this story is that Isler also pioneered several other structural types using fabric and ice. Perhaps the most enigmatic of these ‘playful experiments’ as Chilton called them, is the flower form.
The article explores the flower form structural type through a series of self-built architectural prototypes of fabric and ice. These experimental structures are knowingly ephemeral: the only certainty is their demise which occurs not to a planned timescale but rather the caprices of the weather. Such structural entropy makes the further study and understanding inherently difficult. This inquiry starts to formulate ways of embracing and addressing this quality of temporariness.
The ‘solutions’ devised are specific to the problems posed by these seemingly esoteric structures and this undoubtedly quixotic form of construction. The article argues however that three key tenets emerge from this inquiry (agility, ad hocism, and additive redundancy) which may be generalisable to other temporary architectures, thus extending their durée beyond their apparent limits.
The article comprises a 2000 word text alongside a series of photographs of three flower form architectural prototypes that explore issues of materiality, entropy and temporariness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-23
Number of pages6
JournalOn Site review
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2023

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