London’s Antepavilion competition soldiers on with new winners

The Ole' Razzle Dazzle

London’s Antepavilion competition soldiers on with new winners

Antechamber was designed as a flexible, defensible structure capable of rapid deployment (Courtesy Studio Nima Sardar)

Undeterred by the ongoing legal battle that has followed the attempted installation of last year’s winner, SHARKS!, and abandoned by former co-sponsors at the Architecture Foundation, Russell Gray and his team at London’s Antepavilion charity have forged ahead with plans for the next iteration of the annual Antepavilion competition that places a temporary installation on Gray’s premises in Hackney.

The brief for the 2021 Antepavilion responded head-on to the 2020 controversy, calling for the design of a “bartizan” atop the wharf buildings along London’s Regent’s Canal. The brief’s three themes—guerre, agility, and re-use—nimbly straddle combat, stealth, and resourcefulness as countermeasures to authoritarian intervention.

Singing sharks in the middle of a london canal for Antepavilion
SHARKS!, last year’s winning pavilion, was relocated to the City Road Basin. (Courtesy Antepavilion)

Mindful of the war drums still beating in Hackney Council’s chambers, however, competition organisers included the caveat that “selected structures would be required to be expressly temporary, mobile or transportable, or otherwise not caught by prohibitive planning constraints that the Council would be quick to adopt into their legal arsenal.”

The recently announced winners of the 2021 competition include two projects slated for construction this summer and a handful of “Razzle Dazzle” prizes, awarded for their visual and imaginative appeal.

The winning entry, Antechamber by Studio Nima Sardar, reuses salvaged materials from the 2019 Antepavilion, Potempkin Theatre, to create a camera-obscura. “We were interested in the portability of the camera as an object, and the billowed forms of historic cameras,” said Nima Sardar.

The proposal’s pyramidal form takes on the defensible characteristics of the bartizan, with an almost hidden entrance that faces the existing building whose aperture reveals itself as you approach the plinth on which it sits.

A pyramidal parasitic structure attached to a canal-side building for antepavilion
Another possible Antechamber positioning (Courtesy Antepavilion)

“There is nothing more anarchitecture than a bird’s nest,” said Sardar, “so we imagined this as a birdhouse that you could hang or hook to the edge of a building.”

In addition to Antechamber, which will be built and installed by July 2021, the jury also appointed an early summer commission, All Along the Watchtower by Project Bunny Rabbit, a design & build collective that “sprung out of Extinction Rebellion to collectively create the structures we need to challenge power.”

“The jury was split on who to choose as a sole winner,” said Gray, “and it seemed like a good opportunity to go out with a bang if Hackney Council were to effectively shut down any future Antepavilions through court action.”

A single-page field manual for rapid urban deployment of reused festival structures
The Operation Razzle Dazzle field manual (James Deru, Andrew Kwok, David Majoe)

Both installations have been conceived with portability in mind. Antechamber, noted Sardar, is comprised of two components in the base structure which “fit into one another, while the fabric top structure folds down into the base—turning into a boxed item easy to transport.”

All Along the Watchtower, a collection of tensegrity bamboo towers, can be assembled into various configurations, responding to the site or political context. “The beacons,” said Project Bunny Rabbit, “embody the characteristics necessary in guerrilla-style confrontation with authority: agility, flexibility, adaptability, transportability and security. They are instruments of nonviolent direct action in the face of encroaching authoritarianism.”

The colorful crew of “Razzle Dazzle” prize winners include Operation Razzle Dazzle, a strategic manual that reconfigures the Potempkin Theatre into “three mobile tools of war capable of redeployment across the city,” The Elephant in the Hat, which deftly plays upon a planning loophole that allows phone booths to be constructed without requiring permission, and Flip the Bird(Box), whose form unmistakeably communicates its message,

A set of globe lights in the shape of an elephant deployed for the antepavilion competition
Second-place Razzle Dazzle winner The Elephant in the Hat (Eric Wong and Michael Quach)

As for the SHARKS!, it seems they have made a stealthy excursion out of Hackney, along the canal to the City Road Basin, where they formed a celebratory ensemble in honour of the re-opening of the Islington Boat Club in early April. Islington Council has acknowledged this temporary installation, whilst noting that, as no planning permission or approval from the Canal and River Trust was sought, Islington Boat Club have been asked to remove the installation.

Sadly, these grinning fish may have to swim further upstream to find a more welcoming abode.