Canopy Pavilion showcases new technology with a place in the shade

The Canopy Pavilion uses hundreds of different interlinked panels to explore physical and mechanical properties never before employed in architecture. The structure, which now provides a shady place to meet and relax on EPFL’s main campus, is the result of a joint effort between two EPFL labs: the Geometric Computing Laboratory (GCM) and the Laboratory for Collective and Active Imagination with Space (ALICE).

“Let’s meet up at the Canopy at solar noon on the summer solstice!” This may sound like an invitation for astronomy majors, since that’s the moment when the compression pole supporting this metallic mesh structure will be perfectly aligned with the sun. But it’s just one of the possible ways that friends will invite each other to get together under the campus’s new Canopy Pavilion.

“The Canopy is made from 628 aluminum panels, which form intriguing patterns of shade and sunlight throughout the year – much like the leaves of a tree,” says Mark Pauly, who heads the GCM. He developed the algorithms that were used to generate the unique shapes of each panel. “While all the panels are different, the mechanism connecting them is the same. That allows for a lot of freedom in designing these types of structures.”

The Canopy is made from two layers of linked aluminum panels, separated in the center by the compression pole and attached to an edge ring made of steel. The bottom layer is designed to support heavy deposits of snow, and the upper layer to withstand strong winds. Together, they provide stability to the structure. “Auxetic structures – or structures that expand in a direction perpendicular to the applied force when they’re stretched – are hardly ever used in architecture,” says Pauly. “We wanted to explore their potential, and worked with colleagues in the architecture department to make sure our designs were consistent with building standards.” The research team also ran optimization programs to create patterns that provide the same amount of shade as conventional structures, but while using less physical material.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait until the summer solstice to enjoy the shade under the new structure, located on the south-west corner of the Rolex Learning Center. It’s open to everyone, and it houses the “polygrills” – the barbeque grills that have been set up for the EPFL community. The Canopy Pavilion will also be featured during EPFL’s Open Days on 29–30 April 2023.

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