Feature —

Almost Nothing

This summer Dirk Jan Postel (Kraayvanger-Urbis) won the Benedictus Award for a small pavilion with a roof supported entirely by glass.

A minor theme that persistently runs through modern architecture is the quest for (almost) nothing, for the purest possible architecture whose form is determined by the very absence of all that is superfluous. The most striking illustration is the development of the glass pavilion, in which space seems defined by nothing but the roof. In truth, the 'story' of the glass pavilion has long been told, ever since Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House first set the standard and Philip Johnson responded to it. All that remained was technology, as well as the question whether the columns could be dispensed with. The answer was yes. Glass can, if necessary, be used as a bearing structure, and glass walls can support a roof. Last year Dirk Jan Postel – who had already shown an understanding of the bearing capacity of glass with an entirely glazed bridge connecting two parts of his own office – constructed a modest pavilion with 'invisible' walls in France.

The small pavilion is situated on the abutment of what used to be a railway line, beside an 18th-century folly. Glass plates support the 2000-kilogram, wooden, stressed-skin roof. Laminated hard-glass plates secured to the ground provide lateral and rotational stability. Light reflection means that the walls are still visible, but more 'nothingness' would seem impossible – unless of course you devised a climatological curtain of air in the form of heat currents for example.

For all that, the question is naturally not who succeeds in building the most invisible wall, but whether it results in something of architectural merit. And this pavilion certainly does. At least that's the verdict of the jury of the Benedictus Award for innovation in architectural laminated glass, which selected the pavilion for the 'Grand Award'.