The organic expression of the Embassy’s form, as an intimate hide-aways was developed through a participatory workshop with refugee children from the Salusbury World charity. Natasha Reid worked with the group to create “secret dens in a forest” and then drew inspiration from the sculptures which expressed ideas about degrees of mystery and revelation, openness and enclosure, public and private space, ambiguous thresholds and layering of materials.
Sculpting Space, Light and Materials
The incarnation of Embassy for Refugees as a sculptural pavilion takes a strongly phenomenological approach, drawing upon the “secret den” sculptures and making reference to the natural refuges of tree canopies, caves and cocoons. The two shell-like structures, one open and one enclosed, juxtaposes contrasting characteristic of secrecy and spectacle, mystery and revelation.
Originally the site for the Embassy for Refugees pavilion was the Observation Point at the end of the Queen’s Walk, a tree-lined promenade on the South Bank. The organic curves of the pavilion are extrapolated from the forms created by these particular trees. As the Celebrating Sanctuary festival became scaled down to an intimate event focussed around the Embassy pavilion, it was relocated to neighbouring Bernie Spain Gardens to give it more surrounding space as the centrepiece of the event.
As a counterpoint to the condition of sanctuary, themes of displacement and uncertainty are expressed through ambiguous boundaries and contrasting materials. The choice of materials is a development of the research undertaken during a residency commission in July 2012, entitled "Art, architecture and the Narratives of Cultural Displacement".
The form fluctuates in reponse to changing light and movement. On approach, it is at once solid and substantial but reveals itself as simultaneously delicate and fragile. Like an oyster shell, the external structure of the pavilion is tough and robust, supporting an ethereal inner lining which references the language of tents, an enduring symbol of refuge, shelter and survival.
The sharp contrast between the solidity, strength and precision of the timber framework and the rippling, translucent plastic heightens each materials’ particular characteristics. The language of juxtaposition is further emphasized at a detailed level, with the irregularly textured quality and rich, golden colour of the SmartPly against the grid-like pattern and reflective, whiteness of the scaffold sheet.