Like an iridescent peacock strutting across the manicured lawns of John Soane’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Colour Palace pavilion seems both an exotic interloper and quite at home in its stately surroundings. The temporary pavilion – the second edition in a programme initiated by the London Festival of Architecture – was designed by architect Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori, and offers “an explosion of colour that immediately demands your attention”, as the latter puts it.
The artist and architect met when Ilori moved into a studio that Pricegore had designed, and began a conversation about colour, which has been an important aspect of Ilori’s work for a decade, and a was a subject of growing interest for Pricegore. They decided to make a last-minute joint entry to the open competition for the pavilion, with a proposal that was selected from among 150 entries by a jury “pretty unanimously intensely struck by this design”, says LFA director Tamsie Thomson.
“Yinka’s work often draws on his Nigerian heritage, and ours draws upon architectural history – which tends to be a bit Euro-centric – and we agreed to make a project that brings those influences together”, says architect Dingle Price. The approach is summarised in the line that the team pitched to the gallery: ‘What if Soane’s grand tour didn’t go to Venice, but to Lagos?’ Out of discussion emerged two points of connection between the cultures that provided the literal and metaphorical foundations for the structure: first, the practice of raising small but precious buildings – such as grain stores – on short chunky legs, and second, the use of geometric ornament. “Geometry was also our way of setting the pavilion in this place”, says architect Alex Gore. Soane’s 1811 galleries are single, double and triple cubes, and the pavilion is also a 10-metre cube. In plan it is rotated at 45-degrees to the gallery “to make a public gesture of welcome to the street”.
Atop four red columns (formed from cheap concrete manhole chambers) a first-floor gantry walkway runs around the perimeter of the square plan, whose balustrades conceal slender steel trusses. Above, the structure is formed only from 50x50mm Douglas fir members, with 260 connections of 50 different types – a significant undertaking for fabricator RASKL, which worked up the detailed design from concepts by engineers HRW.
The building’s peacock plumage is formed of overlapping panels of slatted timber, with the brightly painted 45x45mm softwood battens set at six-inch centres, offset from those above and below to lend a subtle depth and a suggestion of movement to the vibrant geometric patterns.
In place until 22 September, the structure will accommodate a variety of activities, from ticketing for the gallery and a bar to life drawing and yoga classes.