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The Swallowtail Pavilion is the centre piece of Wedgwood’s Gold Medal winning entry to the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show. Its sweeping filigree form plays on Hogarth’s Line of Beauty and explores the shapes seen on the human body. The sculpture is an exciting realisation of the concepts described in the artist Allan McRobie’s book: The Seduction of Curves.

The sculpture is formed from hollow steel tube and strung with brass chain. Expedition’s structural engineering focused on providing the sculpture with just enough support to allow the use of a very small diameter steel section, whilst maintaining an impression of just grazing the ground.

In response to a tight design programme, Expedition developed an approach that would support swift informed decision making within a short series of workshops. Key to this approach was our innovative use of parametric modelling alongside virtual reality.

The parametric model captured the structural and fabrication constraints and linked the aesthetic variables to an easy to use graphic interface. This allowed full exploration of the design space by all members of the design team within the workshops. The reliable and fast feedback provided by the model, and the confidence created by using virtual reality, made it possible to finalise decisions within the workshops and significantly reduced the time required for iterations.

The complex curved form required unconventional fabrication technologies. The tube curves smoothly and continuously in three dimensions, making traditional tube bending techniques inappropriate. By borrowing technology from nautical engineering, this issue was overcome. Expedition worked closely with the steelwork fabricator Pemat AG to develop a final geometry and jointing system that made it possible to fabricate, transport, and install the pavilion with only four days on site.

The Pavilion has featured on the BBC RHS Chelsea Flower Show programme and has been presented at the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering Future of Design 2018 Conference.

James Parker
David Hewlett

Client: Wedgwood

Design: Jo Thompson Landscape & Garden Design

Artist: Allan McRobie (Cambridge University Engineering Dept)

Fabricator: Pemat AG

Contractor: Bespoke Outdoor Spaces & The Sculpture Factory

Status: Complete

Chelsea Flower Show – Swallowtail Pavilion