An Art Gallery for the Road

An Art Gallery for the Road

The Chanel Pavilion/Mobile Art Chanel Contemporary Container is a moveable building.  The sinuous, 7500 sf (700m2) structure was designed as a travelling exhibition, to be set up for temporary residences in a series of major cities worldwide.  It debuted in Hong Kong in February 2008, then Tokyo in early summer that year, followed by New York in autumn.  It is a showcase for works of art inspired by Chanel’s 2.55 handbag. It was designed by the ever-adventurous Zaha Hadid Architects, with engineering by Arup, engineering of the composite exterior by David Kendall, Optima Projects Ltd., and fabrication by Stage One.

The pavilion is described by Hadid as “a celebration of the iconic work of Chanel, unmistakable for its smooth layering of exquisite details that together create an elegant, cohesive whole. The resulting functional, and versatile architectural structure of the Pavilion is a series of continuous arch-shaped elements, with a courtyard in its central space. Artificial light behind the translucent ceiling washes the walls to emphasize the “arched” structure, and assists in the creation of a new artificial landscape for art installations. A large roof light opening dramatically floods the entrance in daylight to blur the relationship between interior and exterior. In addition to the lighting and colour effects, the spatial rhythm created by the seams of each segment gives strong perspective views throughout the interior.”

The nautilus-like structure is designed to lead visitors on a tightly defined experience, allowing them to enter one at a time and taking them ever-inward through the gallery spaces, finally leading to the 700 sf (65 m2) open central space.  Along the way, they experience the work of 20 artists from around the world.  But the organic shape with its extremely glossy, very manufactured surface is, itself, a piece of sculpture, an object to be regarded with a certain wonder.  It seems like a mobile museum designed to travel between galaxies, not just cities.

The pavilion is built of a steel skeleton skinned by 400 FRP panels, no two of the exact same size or 3-D geometry.  They were fabricated using molds created on 3-xis and 5-axis CNC routers.  According to Stage One, “The FRP panels were engineered to withstand extreme wind loads, using computer modelling and finite element analysis to optimize the laminate construction. These laminates were toughened with a mixture of glass reinforcements including stitched biaxial cloths and unidirectional fibres with various core materials. These were used in combination with fire retardant resins.”

At each installation, the steel is supposed to take one week to assemble, with completed assemble scheduled for four weeks, and disassembly in three weeks.  Assembly of the first installation indeed took 4 weeks, with a crew of 25 who worked ‘round the clock.