Location: The Smile

Imagine standing in a structure something “between a landscape, an adventure playground, and a weightless funnel of space and light.” This dynamic, sensory space, as described by its own creator, became a reality at this year’s London Design Festival.

The Smile, a project by London based architect Alison Brooks plays a dual role. In addition to serving as an aesthetically pleasing, interactive urban pavilion, it provides a look into the very future of the construction industry. Standing an impressive 3 meters high and 34 meters long, the Smile is featured as a Landmark Project at The London Design Festival – a weeklong festival featuring hundreds of events throughout the city, showcasing London’s “pivotal role in global design.” 

Alison Brooks, mastermind behind the project, is an award-winning architect and founder of Alison Brooks Architects, an architecture firm based out of London. Upon graduation from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, the Canadian native moved to the United Kingdom and became a partner at Ron Arad Associates, a London based architecture firm. Brooks went on to found her own firm in 1996 and has since been honored with many prestigious awards including the “AJ Woman Architect of the Year Award” in 2013.

Brooks is most known for her intelligently designed modern homes; however, she has also designed a variety of projects in the cultural sector such as libraries, museums, and auditoriums including structures such as the Performing Arts Center in Folkestone and the Bridgwater College Performing Arts Center in Somerset.  

With her many accolades, it is clear to see why the award winning architect was commissioned with a Landmark Project at the London Design Festival. Utilizing an innovative technique, Brooks’ structure is built entirely from cross-laminated timber or CLT, and is, to date, the most complex structure of the like ever built. This groundbreaking advancement in building technologies will pave the way for future experiments and implementation based around this advancing technology. 

CLT technology essentially allows for large wood panels to be fabricated from smaller planks of wood combined with glue in a criss-cross arrangement. This arrangement yields an incredibly strong and light piece of building material. Machined by computers with extreme accuracy, assembling the materials comes with great ease, allowing construction projects to take on a likeness to the assembly of a shelf from Ikea. This new technology, when implemented at a large scale will change the face of construction as we know it. As described by the American Hardwood Export Council: “If the 19th century belonged to iron and steel and the 20th century belonged to concrete, then the 21st belongs to timber and CLT.”

From a visitor’s perspective, in addition to providing an intriguing insight into the future of building technologies, the Smile’s sheer magnitude makes for an awe inspiring experience. Visitors are permitted to enter and explore the hulking installation in order to fully take in the construction and design details. Upon entry, guests hike up either side of the structure to elevated viewing platforms that offer pleasant sights of the surrounding area. When night falls, the Smile is illuminated and transforms into a massive lantern of sorts, per the architect’s design. The Smile is certainly worth a visit – visitors will not be disappointed with this impressive structure’s interactive nature and aesthetic excellence.

Damian M.

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