The False Banana Pavilion by FleaFollyArchitects

Designed and built by FleaFollyArchitects, The False Banana Pavilion has taken up residence within the grounds of Kew Wakehurst National Trust site in West Sussex, England.

The pavilion is one of five temporary installations that are located across 500 acres of Wakehurst’s wild botanic garden’s, forming part of the gardens ‘Nourish’ summer programme.

Working with the team at Wakehurst, the programmes brief was to explore and bring to life an aspect of Kew’s world-leading international science projects through immersive artworks.

FleaFolly worked with Kew research fellow, James Borrell, to explore and celebrate the remarkable Enset plant, otherwise known as the tree against hunger or the false banana.

A wild relative to our domesticated banana, the Enset (a staple crop in Ethiopia) provides a food source for more than 20 million people with incredible climate resilient qualities that Kew hopes can be maximised as a durable, climate-smart crop of the future.

The pavilion pays homage to both the Enset and the surrounding wild landscape of Wakehurst that attempts to take often-tricky scientific concepts and translate them into something more visually accessible.

Located among Wakehurst’s national collection of birch trees in Bethlehem woods, the pavilion sits within a clearing surrounded by a backdrop of mature trees that aim to draw the viewer towards something that is both familiar and alien in the landscape.

The pavilion takes Inspiration from the tukul huts traditionally found in Ethiopia and in particular the woven huts of the Dorze people which are fabricated from bamboo and often clad internally in Enset leaves. To not be a pastiche of these, the large, rectangular wooden frame, standing at 6m in height and 3.2m² in footprint, is clad in a variety of natural materials more commonly found in and around Wakehurst. This creates a vernacular piece of architecture to sit within this unique landscape.

The pavilion is dressed in layers of hazel hurdle panels and compressed water reed sheets.

These base materials are overclad in bands of long grass thatch that have been cut and crafted to create a decorative and geometric set of forms not normally associated with natural materials such as these. A layer of gothic, willow ‘shields’ wrap and adorn all four sides, whilst the pavilion is topped with a Sarass grass ‘haircut’. These materials aim to give the architecture a personality amongst the landscape, almost like it will lift itself up and walk around the land once the public have left for the day.

The whole structure sits elevated on a series of temporary screw piles, partly hidden and obscured by a dried banana leaf skirt giving the pavilion a floating quality, that once removed, intentionally doesn’t leave a trace on this designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.

At the front there is a large opening into the centre of the pavilion. Upon entering you are faced with a contrasting full-height pyramidal-shaped space that is clad in over 900 CNC-Cut birch plywood leaves that have been individually stained in gradient bands of reds to greens to show the diverse colour spectrum of the Enset.

Each leaf is engraved with a different landrace (variety of Enset species) and its corresponding location in Ethiopia as a way to help visualise the Enset’s unique ability to withstand and adapt to changing and adverse geographical conditions within which it grows.

Built into this leaf cladding, in the void between outer skin and inner, sits a small seat for contemplation. A space to shelter in this beautiful landscape and take a moment to pause and reflect. A small oculus, open to the sky sits at the peak of the internal pyramid where one can watch the clouds above drift past and witness how the changing light transforms the colours of the Enset leaves and space within.

FleaFollyArchitects was founded by Pascal Bronner and Thomas Hillier who are also Senior Lecturers in Architecture at the university of Greenwich. FleaFolly are spatial-storytellers who use narrative and fiction to discover, explore and invent unique architectural propositions encompassing all scales. As with almost all of their projects, Pascal and Thomas built the False Banana Pavilion over the course of 12 days. Previous projects include the Bathhouse Listening Tower at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, Plashetts Risings, a gravity-defying perch for Kielder forests Osprey community and a series of large-scale murals on the Greenwich Peninsula. They are currently working on two permanent follies for Ebbsfleet that are set to be complete this November.

Nourish runs until the 18 of September with the pavilion open until the end of September.