The Magnolia pavilion is a lightweight, deployable gridshell, constructed from a flat mat that is then bent into shape. It was built during a four-day workshop with students and staff from Sheffield Hallam University. At the invitation of SHU, Summum Engineering collaborated with Edyta Augustynowicz to develop, design and engineer the gridshell, and co-supervise the workshop itself.

The gridshell was developed in the tradition of Frei Otto’s gridshells, but using glass-fibre reinforced polymer instead of timber and featuring a central funnel support. Two novel concepts for deployable gridshells emerged from the design process: first, the flat mat was constructed to wrap in on itself, forming an upright cylinder, then pulling its upper edge to the centre; and, second, the gridshell has a pattern that varies in spacing. The varying spacing was necessary to keep the grid density at the funnel manageable. This spacing and the central funnel support were also a product of the initial design intent, which was to refer to the magnolia flower, through the shape and pattern of its leaves.

The final design was 9.5 by 9.5 m in plan, and 2.8 m high. It was constructed using: glass-fibre reinforced polymer (GFRP), 8 mm diameter, 1.5 mm thick rods; steel, 2 mm diameter cables; plastic cable-ties; gaffer tape and heavy duty tape; MDF compression rings; and, plywood abutments filled with sand. The grid spacing varied and was either 45 by 45 cm or 90 by 90 cm. The total length of GFRP rods was about 740 m. The gridshell itself weighed only 112 kg and was secured to the five sand-filled abutments.

The gridshell was constructed from Tuesday November 1st to Friday November 4th 2016, and positioned in front of SHU’s entrance at Hallam Square in the city centre of Sheffield, UK. The structure was built as part of a larger event on gridshells, which included lectures, an exhibition and the UK book release of the book “Timber Gridshells“. This event was itself part of “Catalyst: Festival of Creativity”, SHU’s offering to the city’s “2016 Year of Making” event. After six weeks, the gridshell was disassembled, simply folded up and placed in storage.



Edyta Augustynowicz
Gabriel Tang | Sheffield Hallam University
Bernardino D’Amico | Napier Edinburgh University

Ken Smith, Sarah May, Frances Robertson | Sheffield Hallam University

Patrick Back, Chloe Black, Anna Dawson, Zak Denny, Ethan Dunbobbin, Richard Formon, Alice Gilhespy-Swan, Jonathan Hurd, Dineka Keeton, Mitchell Legge, Rosie Lucas, Mohammed Mahdi, Elena Mirica, Abhinav Pishey, Rupert Pope, Nnenna Obienke, Sofia Raineri, Emily Saul,
Keitu Sibanda, Abbie York, Loki Yung, and others

Location: Sheffield, UK
Time: November, 2016
StatusCompleted, disassembled
Project area: 100 m2
Budget: GBP 2.100 (material cost)

Services: Structural design, parametric modelling, structural engineering, site supervision, construction

Veenendaal, D., Augustynowicz, E. & Tang, G. Magnolia: a glass-fibre reinforced polymer gridshell with a novel pattern and deployment concept. Proceedings of the IASS Annual Symposium, Hamburg, Germany, 2017.

Magnolia steals the show at Hallam Square, Sheffield Hallam University website, 14-11-2016.

Sheffield Hallam University will look bloomin′ marvellous this winter thanks to a huge new magnolia flower-inspired structure in Hallam Square, Sheffield Institute of Arts website

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