A Floating Room

location: Heerlen NL
project status: Unrealized, 2010

“We are apathetic people, if we do not now attempt to make a new art of living, instead of escaping from living into rather dreary art. As a temporary measure the proposal has been put forward that every town should have a space at its disposal where the latest discoveries of engineering and science can provide an environment for pleasure and discovery, a place to look at the stars, to eat, stroll, meet and play.”  - Cedric Price (Pensées, 1963)

“A Floating room” is the winning competition entry for a mobile event and exhibition space for SCHUNCK*, a multidisciplinary cultural center and museum in Heerlen, Netherlands. Today the center is housed in the Glaspaleis, one of the first Modernist concrete structures with a curtain wall façade as noted in the UIA index of most significant 20th Century architecture. In 1934, Peter Schunck asked Frits Peutz to design a seven-story department store as a covered market, one flooded with daylight so that his fabrics were seemingly sold under an open sky. Peutz’s response: a radical structure stripped of load-bearing walls and supported by lily-pad columns instead. This so-called Glaspaleis offered an open floor plan and utmost flexibility; its dematerialized architecture also brought the spectacle of crowds and consumption to the fore. 

The Floating room pavilion revives the essential features of the Glaspaleis, yet takes its dematerialization and flexibility to the extreme. Its impact is one of a real building (measuring 15m x 25m x 25m) however its materiality soft and paper thin. Architecture’s substance, here, is of gas, reflections and events. The Floating room is a catalyst for social interaction and sensational experience—the space Cedric Price argued for in every town, at least temporarily.

The project is essentially a floating roof, a room buoyed by air, and large enough to shelter visitors from the elements while exposing them to the sky above. Its slanted cube is transparent on top and bottom, while its sides are mirrored. Together these frame and capture the sky, clouds and weather movements in a kaleidoscopic game of reflections along with views of the exhibition and visitor. People and artworks are literally suspended and melded in an affective environment. The collapsed and distorted images heighten and slow the perception of immediate events and time. 

While a place of pleasure the pavilion fundamentally responds to economic necessity and material frugality. Thus permanent components are flexible. The space outlined by the floating roof provides an open platform for variable activities, spontaneous appropriation and endless reconfigurations. More ephemeral components are inexpensive. Suspended from a 1,25m spaced grid, curtains—or any other lightweight space-defining elements suspended from the ceiling—slide on tracks. Anchoring the pavilion to the ground are water-filled seats, enabling it independence from topography or soil conditions to occupy any location. Water and helium are supplied on site. The mobile pavilion will appear in cities on the occasion of biennales, festivals or fairs. Though its presence is short lived, the pavilion engages its context by softly reflecting its surroundings while creating a sheltered gathering place in direct contact with the city that extends to an infinite outside. Here, temporality is conceived to produce maximum effect with minimal means. When deflated, the pavilion and its components fit into a small van.