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The IBM Traveling Pavilion:
Piano Renzo

The IBM Traveling Pavilion, technological pavilion is designed to be a unique exhibition by Renzo Piano. It is a big assembly box that can be easily assembled, disassembled and adapted to different environmental and climatic conditions varying from town to town.

It is virtually self-contained and capable of being fitted out in four weeks. The pavilion visited 20 cities in 14 European countries over a period of 30 months.

Reflecting the theme of the exhibition, which is investigation of nature by electronic technology, the setting is natural. The transparent pavilion is a miniature crystal palace, which blends in with the landscape.

The structure itself has its natural overtones. Piano claims that he drew his inspiration for this from the many forms that the nature has to offer.

Above, his sketch displays the relationship between the nature and the pavilion.

Nature and natural environment are the groundline suggestions of the building. Piano designed an environmentally controlled exhibition area. It was also important for IBM to present computers to public in the natural setting to support the idea that computers are a part of everyday life like the sky and trees.

Minor landscaping and planting is executed for the purpose of integrating architecture and natural environment. In the Paris exhibition 29 trucks brought soil for landscaping.

The pavilion is 48 meters long, 12 meters wide and 6 meters high. It is made up 68 half arches each consisting of 6 polycarbonate pyramids held together by laminated timber - struts cast aluminum joints.

Vaulted arches are dissolved into approximately 2000 pieces and are transparent along with flooring and service elements in 18 custom built trailers. Each arch is made from 12 fire resistant transparent polycarbonate pyramids.

The structure is composed of a sequence of three hinged arch units. As I mentioned before they can easily be assembled and disassembled using simple tools. The supports for the arch must resist the horizontal thrust caused by gravity and lateral loads.

The construction drawing, shown above exhibits details of elevations and a cross section.

The half arches were in fact three-dimensional trusses, with poly-carbonate serving as both the cladding membrane and structural web between inner and outer chords.


Structure and Materials:
The building is a glasshouse and it’s transparency is to dim the inside electronic atmosphere of the exhibition through the presence of nature outside. The building has been elaborated and built up together "scientifically" and "made by hand": each component has been conceived, designed tested and built with a very strict approach combining conception and realization. Reflecting the theme of the theme of the exhibition "investigation of nature by electronic technology" the setting is to be natural or parklike structure a transparent pavilion or miniature Crystal Palace which blends with the landscape.

The structure itself has its natural overtones. Piano claims that he drew his inspiration for this from the many forms that nature has to offer, in particular the shell formation of crustacea which combines both structure and cladding as one external envelop.

Structural Technology
The forms and the structure used are made of three base combustible materials: polycarbonate, cast aluminum and laminated wood which use a very advanced technology of gluing that allows nearly organic integration of the different materials. The structure is composed of a sequence three-hinged arched units which can easily be assembled and disassembled using simple tools and then ported by trailer.

This is common and very economical for a one story large span structure because the moment resisting splice is not required. Also, it can be designed with a constant radius or can be parabolic, cycloid or pointed. The supports for the arch must resist the horizontal thrust caused by gravity and lateral loads and possibility uplift the foundation.

Construction Materials and Details:
The pavilion structure comprises a raised steel-framed floor enclosed with 34 self-supporting semi-circular arches 1.4 meters in width spanning 10.2 meters. Each arch is composed of 12 fire-resistant, transparent polycarbonate pyramidal elements (one side being 1.2 meters). The vaulted structure, assembled, becomes a composition of crystalline forms visually amplified by sunlight and veiled by trees. The network of pyramidal elements is interconnected internally and externally by ribs of laminated beech wood whose fine-grained quality render a "soft architecture".

The outer laminated timber spar which joins the apex of each pyramid with two similar spars forms the double internal chords of the arch. The structure formed by the pyramids and the spars behaves as a triangular cross-section truss. The timber spars being the chords of the truss with the pyramid ridges as the webs. The spars, made from laminated timber in short sections, are glued to cast aluminum nodes to which the pyramids are stiffened with metal plates and stainless steel blocks bonded with special glues to the polycarbonate. It is these plates and blocks that facilitate the bolted site connection.

Joints of cast aluminum are glued allowing an organic integration of materials. Due to the use of polycarbonate, the arch (radius 6 meters) is able to support a dead load of 500 kilograms thus facilitating construction and transportation.


Floor and Support Equipment:
The floor structure consist of steel beams and support footings which can be lengthened or shortened according to the nature of the site: thermal insulation is used in both exterior and interior finishing panels in order to decrease winter heating demands. All service equipment, including air conditioning, is housed within the floor structure. The floor material is wood and is meant to cater to the natural sense of touch.

Two support containers are linked to the pavilion during the exhibition. One, 12x24 meters, is a technical container and house an air-conditioned electronic room and workshop.


The active climate control system for the IBM Pavilion:

The active climate control system for the IBM Pavilion is a split-package central heating and cooling system.

The system is made of 2 parts. A single outdoor unit that includes the compressor and condensing coils, and 6 indoor units, each contain the cooling and heating coils and the circulating fan.

The indoor and outdoor units are connected with insulating refrigerant tubing and control wiring. The insulation of this tubing is highly effective and makes the system quite efficient.

And the practicality of transporting air in these tubes a long distance was not a factor in this case because the small size of the pavilion.

In the IBM Pavilion, the outdoor part of the unit is located in one of the 23 trucks that were specially designed to transport it from one location to another.

Being able to permanently house the major part of the cooling/heating system in a truck and just "plugging" it into the building had many advantages among which:

Labor is reduced for the assembly.
Space that would potentially be reserved for the equipment is reduced, and the equipment is easily accessible in the truck.
Another advantage is that noise within this temporary structure is lessened which reduces the need to provide some insulation or other device to dampen the noise.

As we described before, the floor is supported by a series of trusses running in the same direction as the arches. The trusses allow for various mechanical and electrical systems including the refrigerant tubing and control wiring, to pass freely through them. The supply ducts run from the underside of the inside units, under the floor, and through the truss beams to the supply grills.

Supply ducts and floor vents:
There are two types of the supply grills: floor grills and "anti-condensation" ducts/grill that runs the length of the building. There are 90 floor vents that are spaced approximately 1/2m meters apart in two serpent-like rows running the length of the building.

The ceiling vent is supplied by small ducts or anti-condensation units, that attach to the underside of each arch, starting from the point of connection to the beam (and supply

Duct) to the top of the arch into the vent that runs along the length of the building.

Both grills supply general heating and cooling, but the anti-condensation ducts and ceiling-vent have the additional role of reducing the accumulation of condensation on the polystyrene pyramids by supplying warm, dry air to the area. The air is discharging the full length of the duct running along the underside of the 3-hinged arch, supplying the dry heat needed to reduce condensation to two pyramids on each side. Also, some small air diffusers channeling warm air onto the inner surface of the pyramids have been positioned in order to avoid condensation inside the structure."

The section shows arrows pointing towards what is referred to as a standing air-conditioning unit in a manner that suggests air intake, meaning that the 6 indoor units of the system not only pump out air down to the ducts in the floor, but also accepts the return air.

This system is a constant-air-volume (CAV) system, for a number of reasons.

Each indoor unit is capable of controlling the heating and cooling separately therefore already creating 6 separate zones within the pavilion. Each can be in itself a dual-zone system- one zone handling the floor vents and another zone handling the anti-condensation ducts.

The pavilion is a one space; temporary building designed to be portable and easy to use, which does not support the use of a complex system.
With 90 floor grills and 72 anti-condensation ducts a VAV system would be both space and technically demanding.
Also the CAV system is characterized by a central source where the air is conditioned (mixed with outdoor air, filtered heated/cooled, etc.) and where there is a master thermostat, as opposed to the VAV system where there is a thermostat at each source or zone.
The CAV system can be single zone, where all the air leaving the central unit (or indoor unit in this case) has the same temperature and air volume. Or multiple zone, where hot or cold air can be blended at the fan and then sent into each duct according to need.
Also the system is most likely run by electricity only, which would have to be supplied in some manner to the truck at each of the 20 locations. The advantage of using only electricity is the easy access to an electric source in an urban environment. The disadvantage of electric systems is the expense, but because the pavilion is a temporary structure only meant to be used for a specific time in only 20 cities the ease of use outweighs the expense.

Passive control systems:
The IBM Pavilion, 3 passive control systems are used. The primary passive system is identified as counter-pyramids made of opaque polycarbonate acting as thermal insulants as well as light screens, thus optimizing the illumination. The intensity of light inside the pavilion was studied by means of computer simulations in order to determine the ideal number and arrangement of counter-pyramids to be used according to the climatic conditions of the various site locations.

In addition to these counter pyramids, there are 2 shading devices designed to shield computer displays from sunlight. The first of these is an organic tent form of stretched fabric attached to and hovering below the arches. This appears to cover a large part of the floor area.

Where shading is required in a more localized way, a second fabric-shading device is used. These linear shades match the width of each arch, are the length of 3 pyramids, and are attached to the wooden chords at the bottom of each pyramid.

Piano's initial concept of a transparent, ethereal space, however, becomes somewhat subverted with the addition of the counter-pyramids. Although the light quality was tested and the opaque pyramids were designed for optimum lighting, they cut down significantly on views through the structure. The thermal insulators appear to be an afterthought, although probably significantly reduce heat loss.


Lighting System

As the concept of an organic integration of architecture and nature led, a transparent pavilion was designed to be able to use natural lighting as the primary source of light. The designing of sitting in nature and the use of the exhibition during daytime allow a result of Piano’s design to perform its works remarkably.

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 The transparency polycarbonate pyramids

It was such the transparency virtually eliminates the need for lighting. The natural lighting is difficult to control in a completely transparent building.

Therefore the systems of shading were employed such as shading panels and counter-pyramids were clipped to inside of the pyramids to control light levels. The extra stretched fabric shades for each location by computer became requirement because of the possibility of glare on the computer screens. Furthermore, took advantage on shades of trees its natural environment where mostly in the parks of 15 countries around Europe.

 Shading panels


Stretched fabric shades


As we known for a transparency building, it was difficult to control light levels. Therefore, the light testing by using model and the computer stimulation of anticipated light levels inside the pavilion when set upon the particular site and all shading devices in their place were used for the energy consumption, as described in previous assignments.

The computer stimulation of anticipated light levels inside the pavilion.

However, in case of rare occasions when natural lighting is not sufficient, 6 fixtures of up-lighting were provided under the program required that no direct lighting be used. These fixtures were set approximate 7 feet from the floor and take advantage of the reflective qualities of polycarbonate pyramid form providing ambient lighting to further illuminate the space. The program of the building, an exhibition of computer technologies, required that no direct lighting be used because of the possibility of glare on the screens.

The illumination is uniform within the entire space therefore contrast is not desirable. Furthermore, the exhibits themselves generate their own light.

The up-lighting fixtures


Berlin at night the illumination of the pavilion as a result of the remarkable designing performed its beauty extraordinary.

Piano’s concept for the pavilion, one of the merging of nature and technology is successful in the representation of the use of natural light. He supplements the inconsistency of the light by adding up-lights and shading devises, however the initial concept is never compromised. Additionally, natural light is extremely cost efficient.

Wilailuck Wattanasiriwade.


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