The Rain Pavilion is an urban forest sculpture forming the front entrance to Oxford Brookes University’s Architecture Faculty. It is the winning design in a competition for students of fine art and architecture in collaboration with the university’s Capital Projects Team. The semi-permanent structure can be installed and demounted in sections, using limited mechanical plant.
Ramboll’s computational design team, lead by Stephen Melville — structural engineering tutor to the university’s School of Architecture — provided digital modelling expertise and civil and structural engineering services.
The structure consists of 80 polished steel and timber ‘trees’ varying in height from 4m to almost 7m. Each slender hollow column is less than 100mm in diameter and is topped by a sculpted copper lily pad. The fluted leaves collect rainwater, which flows down inside the stems or overspills the canopy, and is recycled. Paths meander through the trees, evoking woodland glades.
Ramboll used digital modelling to replicate a natural forest array where trees towards the middle of the group rise above those at the edges. The technique allowed our engineers to set out each individual tree by optimising the design of the group of narrow stems for strength. Wind loading was a determining factor, though the trees are designed to flex slightly with the wind.
The Rain Pavilion is designed to celebrate the sound of rain, and the noise of water interacting with different sections of the installation is part of the experience of passing through it. The structure has a design life of five years and can be transported to other locations.