Tschumi Pavilion: Small housing city living

Design: Melvin Koolen, Paul Breteler, Thomas Rosema


The Tschumi pavilion was designed in 1990 by the architect Bernard Tschumi as part of a partially outdoor art exhibition held in the city of Groningen in the same year: the What a Wonderfull World! Music Video’s in Architecture manifestation. Within the context of this event both the coherence as well as the boundaries between art, visual culture, video, architecture and the public domain were explored. The idea was to present pop-music videos, which in those days started to be recognised as a new art form, in a radically unconventional ‘outdoor-urban’ setting. To this end a number of renowned architects were commissioned to design pavilions – within the city’s public realm instead of on an indoor level – suitable for viewing pop-music videos.

The underlying issue here was whether such a concept would lead to a new type of building or ultimately even to a completely new vision on architecture. In this endeavour, new spatial scenarios nor corresponding, up until then unknown, programmes were shunned. The pavilions were originally designed as temporary buildings for the duration of the manifestation. The fortunately preserved Tschumi pavilion however, is still being used as an exhibition space for art projects to this day.


Now, 27 years later, the pavilion has indeed gradually accumulated an impressive portfolio as an urban public vitrine for all kinds of art projects. In April 2017, however, the idea emerged of having the pavilion once again conceptually approached from a strictly architectural perspective. We – three students of the Groningen Academy of Architecture – gratefully took on this challenge, seizing the opportunity to deploy the pavilion in the capacity in which it was initially meant to be used: as an urban exploration site for a new societal phenomenon. This time however, it wasn’t a new sound and vision medium which was supposed to be explored, but a new way of urban living: the current trend in cities towards living in smaller houses. Though in this case this almost automatically appears to generate a new kind of building typology as well as another way of looking at architecture, we ourselves are above all interested in the new spatial scenarios and necessary programmes to which it would lead – both on a ‘domestic’ as well as on an ‘urban’ level.

We city residents are already increasingly using the city as an extended living area, though overall we still continue to consider our own homes as our main habitat. Most of our activities outside our daily routine still take place where we live. In the future however, cities will simply lack the space for this kind of urban living! We are in transition from an old constant – living in homes where most of the things in our lives happen – to a new constant – urban living with the city as the extension of our homes. This will allow people to live in smaller houses, while the quality of living will remain unchanged. Students have already become accustomed to such a way of living, however for older generations it may imply a major shift in living style.

Our design uses the Tschumi pavilion as a means of projecting the above mentioned issues. The Hereplein in the city of Groningen is a perfect example of a high quality urban living area, which isn’t permanently used as such yet. Here, we have managed to create a spatial area both within as well as around its transparent pavilion, which doesn’t immediately seem to reveal what it contains. And that’s precisely what it’s also meant to symbolise. Because we would very much like you to use your own imagination in determining how you yourself would design the interior of this small space if it were your own!


Though the structure itself is entirely made out of wooden slats cut in just two different lengths, its staggered design creates a dynamic whole. Each slat is attached to the next one with just one single screw, together however forming a solid self-supporting construction. The design thus in fact appears to be floating motionless around the glass pavilion. The exact positioning as well as curving of the slats were both determined during the construction phase itself. The ultimate appearance of the structure was thus developed while we were building it.


Due to its tilted floor the Tschumi pavilion has a disorienting effect on its visitors. This proved to align well with what we had set out to explore here with our project, in as much that – upon entering this unusual pavilion – visitors are immediately taken out of their comfort zone and therefore easier able to think ‘outside the box’. Our design aims to enhance this disorientation: visitors find themselves first shut off from the outside world and subsequently a little lost within a strange sloping space. After slowly getting used to where they are, they start focusing outwards again. They then discover they are in a space with all kinds of different sightlines and entering light rays. With a renewed view the city starts reappearing through the wooden shell again.