Pictured here, Between Forests and Skies installed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Courtesy Russell Sach

A Pavilion Explores the Potential of Low Carbon Aluminum

On view at COP26 in Glasgow, design firm Nebbia Works and manufacturer En+ Group originally created the structure for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s garden pool.

When Nebbia Works co-founders Madhav Kidao and Brando Posocco made their Tightened Table out of a single sheet of recycled aluminum and ratchet straps last year, they had bent the metal by hand to form the legs. The London-based design duo then realized that the table’s engineering could easily be scaled up to create a pavilion at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s John Madejski Garden. Made out of 27 sheets of nearly five-ton aluminum, Between Forests and Skies was unveiled during last month’s London Design Festival. “The concept and the craftsmanship stayed but the brute force to manipulate the material came from two men in a crane rather than [our hands],” Posocco tells Metropolis.

The pavilion, which reaches 44 feet in length and eight feet in height, echoes the table’s surface from which multiple “legs” are cut with a water jet cutter and bent using a gantry crane. Natural light is multiplied through reflections that play on the water’s surface and wash over the matte aluminum. “The large amount of reflection gives weightlessness to [the material] and adds humanity to its metallic surface,” Kidao adds. 

The large amount of reflection gives weightlessness and adds humanity to its metallic surface.

Nebbia Works’s Tighten Table. Courtesy Nebbia Works

Beyond the technical sleekness and optical breadth, the commission is a monument to the potentials of aluminum, the world’s third most prolific substance that contributes 2 percent of global carbon emissions. International aluminum manufacturer En+ Group spearheaded the project to demonstrate the possibility of low-carbon production through their invention of coal-free inert anode technology. According to En+’s communication director, Dawn James, the reusable ceramic alloy anodes can revolutionize a notoriously non-sustainable industry. The typical smelter emission process bears high amounts of carbon, she explains, “while our patented system operates on hydropower to separate oxygen out of aluminum.” This year, the manufacturer announced its goal to reduce its emissions by at least 35 percent by 2030 and become net zero by 2050.

The technical complexity of the process prompted the company to approach V&A for a collaboration during the city’s design festival, as a way to convey the technology to the general public. The museum chose five studios to submit projects, and Nebbia Works’s proposal to “imbue humanity to aluminum through experience,” according to Kidao and Posocco, was selected.

Courtesy Russell Sach

Nebbia Works’s “experience-first” viewpoint allows the duo to evoke emotion through design, no matter the scale. “We don’t explain ideas to each other through shapes or forms but instead with feelings for reference,” Posocco says. “Fragility and instability of equilibrium” is a primary theme of the project.

The contrast between balance and collapse is a defining quality of Nebbia Works’s practice. “We work out contracting ideas that seem like should not work,” Kidao notes. “That moment between standing and falling apart creates an engagement with people.” The pavilion’s reference object is a brisk example of their playful philosophy. “We couldn’t make this structure without designing the Tightened Table first,” Kidao also adds. The table’s thinly cut legs only stand thanks to the counteracting tension created by the tightly affixed ratchet straps.

Between Forests and Skies is now on view at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow through November 12. Following the conference, it will be on permanent display at a to-be-announced sculpture garden.

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