Department of Engineering / News / Allan McRobie's Swallowtail Pavilion is the centre piece of garden that wins Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show

Department of Engineering

Allan McRobie's Swallowtail Pavilion is the centre piece of garden that wins Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show

Allan McRobie's Swallowtail Pavilion is the centre piece of garden that wins Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower Show Swallowtail Pavilion by Allan McRobie in the gold medal winning Wedgwood Garden by Jo Thompson seen here with Sally Potterton on violin

Allan McRobie's Swallowtail Pavilion is the centre piece of Wedgwood’s Gold Medal winning entry to the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show.

This sculptural pavilion supports my twin claims that engineering is a creative pastime and that the mathematics of engineering can be rather beautiful as - somehow - the maths of my stability lectures finds itself centre stage at the Chelsea Flower Show! It has been such a privilege to be involved in this, and when Jo was awarded a Gold medal it was the icing on an already very rich cake.

Allan McRobie

Its sweeping filigree form plays on Hogarth’s Line of Beauty and explores the shapes seen on the human body. The sculpture is an exciting realisation of the concepts described in the engineer and artist Allan McRobie’s book: The Seduction of Curves. In essence, the Pavilion is a 3D representation of the final painting of Salvador Dali, The Swallow's Tail, which is in itself an homage to the catastrophe theory of the mathematician René Thom, which Allan uses in his structural stability lectures.

Allan said "This sculptural pavilion supports my twin claims that engineering is a creative pastime and that the mathematics of engineering can be rather beautiful as - somehow - the maths of my stability lectures finds itself centre stage at the Chelsea Flower Show!   It has been such a privilege to be involved in this, and when Jo was awarded a Gold medal it was the icing on an already very rich cake."

The sculpture, formed from hollow steel tube and strung with brass chain, is designed by Allan in collaboration with garden designer Jo Thompson, with detailed engineering calculation and design exploration by Expedition engineering consultancy. Expedition provided the structural design for the curvaceous artwork, as well as creating a series of interactive modelling tools to allow the artist and landscape designers to explore the form both in 3D and using virtual reality. Expedition’s geometry was used by the fabricator, Pemat AG, to extrude the doubly-curved shape using cutting-edge digital manufacturing tools. Expedition’s structural engineering focused on providing the sculpture with just enough support to allow the use of a very small diameter steel section, whilst maintaining an impression of just grazing the ground.

Three of Expedition's young engineers David Hewlett, James Parker and Eleanor Voss, Department of Engineering alumni, collaborated with Jo and Allan to create the centrepiece for Jo's Gold medal winning Wedgwood Garden at Chelsea.

Sakthy Selvakumaran, Aurelia Hibbert and Bridget Fryer, current students here at the Department, helped with the construction of the pavilion.

Swallowtail Pavilion at Chelsea Flower Show 2018

The complex curved form required unconventional fabrication technologies. The tube curves smoothly and continuously in three dimensions, making traditional tube bending techniques inappropriate. By borrowing technology from nautical engineering, this issue was overcome. Expedition worked closely with the steelwork fabricator Pemat AG to develop a final geometry and jointing system that made it possible to fabricate, transport, and install the pavilion with only four days on site.

The Pavilion is featured on the BBC RHS Chelsea Flower Show programme and has been presented at the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering Future of Design 2018 Conference.

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