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Floating on air: Shen Ting Tseng Architects’ pavilion in Taiwan

AR_EA 2016 Finalist: Set against the concrete backdrop of Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Floating engenders feelings of calm and playfulness

Pavilions are a traditional feature of Chinese gardens; the famous Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou contains the Looking Far Away Pavilion, Little Surging Wave Pavilion, ‘With Whom Shall I Sit?’ Pavilion and the Pavilion of Leaning Against the Rainbow, among many others. These are places for observing the ordered nature around them, resting in the rain, chatting, drinking wine and writing poetry.

Since 2014, Taipei Fine Arts Museum has hosted an annual competition to build a temporary pavilion in very different surroundings: the forecourt of the museum building, a 1983 concrete structure with Metabolist overtones by Er-Pan Kao. However, the white exterior walls of the museum form a backdrop not unlike the white walls of the Chinese garden, and this year’s pavilion likewise harks back to traditional architecture.

Floating Pavilion plans by Shen Ting Tseng Architects

Floating Pavilion plans by Shen Ting Tseng Architects

Floating Pavilion plans

Floating pavilion section by Shen Ting Tseng architects

Floating Pavilion section by Shen Ting Tseng architects

Floating Pavilion section

The square base of the structure is made of plywood and carbon fibre, and is suspended slightly above ground level. This base rises to a cone at the centre, like a volcano into the dish-like caldera of which intrepid visitors may crawl. Above this floats a square cloud of nylon box kites, specially constructed by a kite manufacturer, which are tethered to the ground by slender steel columns.

The impression this gives is of ethereal lightness, especially at night when the kites are lit from within – of the earth being carried away by a cloud. This also conjures up associations of another sort. As the architect Shen Ting Tseng observes, Taiwan has been formed by many influences, both Chinese and Japanese, and in the latter culture the word ukiyo or ‘floating world’ designates the new urban consumer lifestyles and economy that grew up in the Edo period.

This was a world of geishas, brothels and actors; a demi-monde only lightly attached to the firmer ground of national culture and tradition. The construction of this ‘floating world’ in front of the museum may be an ironic comment on the frothiness of the international world of contemporary art and its crossover with mass cultural entertainment. Or perhaps it is just a delightful arena ‘for new public activities to happen’, as the architect puts it.

Floating Pavilion model by ShenTingTseng Architects

Floating Pavilion model by ShenTingTseng Architects


Architect: Shen Ting Tseng Architects
Project team: Shen Ting Tseng, Li Ya-Chi, Huang Hsin-Yi
Structural engineer: AS Studio