Smith by Studio Weave


20 May 2014

Smith, a pavilion designed by London-based architecture practice Studio Weave, opens to the public as the 2014 edition of Clerkenwell Design Week begins today. The space is inspired by the tradition of local craftsmanship in the Clerkenwell area and will play host to contemporary artisans over the course of the week.

Made from fibre cement panels by Equitone, the pavilion is constructed from triangular forms to create a self-supporting structure. The shape pays homage to the language of industrial factories with a saw-toothed roof, corrugated plastic skylights and zig-zag walls. Studio Weave's space is open at both ends, drawing people in as they walk down Jerusalem Passage or approach the pavilion from nearby St. John’s Gate, the height of which is matched by the raised entryway into the pavilion.

Fibre cement was invented by Austrian industrialist Ludwig Hatschek in the late 19th century when he mixed cement with asbestos fibres and passed them through a paper mill to create a lightweight, low-cost material. It is commonly used as roofing and siding material because of its water-resistant and fire-proof properties. After the discovery in the 1970s that asbestos could cause lung cancer and other serious health problems, these fibres were replaced by alternatives such as cellulose in order to continue safely producing and using this sheet material.

Yet Studio Weave's project uses a new application of fibre cement, investigating its structural properties and using it as a stressed-skin rather than just façade cladding. “We want to show how a material that has been around for over a century can still be tested in different ways,” says Je Ahn, co-founder of the practice. “We have applied both traditional and contemporary techniques to explore fibre-reinforced cement.”

While the exterior of the pavilion is grey in colour, the interior is made from CNC-milled fibre cement panels in pastels hues, puzzled together to form something akin to traditional wood intarsia, showing scenes of smithing tools and activities. These are drawn from Clerkenwell's legacy of craftsmanship and local craftsmen called smith, depicting silversmiths to goldsmiths, booksmiths to clocksmiths, or even inksmiths and coffeesmiths, from whom the pavilion gets its name.

The use of craft to manifest embedded narratives within a particular form is a common feature in many of the Studio Weave's projects; from their ornate timber gateway, Paleys Upon Pilers that commemorates Aldgate’s most distinguished resident, Geoffrey Chaucer, to the more recent installation Lullaby Factory that installed gramophone speakers and listening pipes between two buildings of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital to create a soothing soundscape.

Smith creatively re-appropriates traditional tools and materials for new uses, both for its external structure as well as its interior programme. On the opening day the structure will contain letterpresses, allowing visitors to make cards and experiment with typesetting. The final day will introduce 3D-printing into the space to show a more contemporary form of artisanal production. The pavilion is a playful space that celebrates the ongoing importance of craft and our fascination with making for anyone to experience.