Oval Court is Tonkin Liu’s competition-winning design to infill the courtyard of the Grade II-Listed Lansdowne House with a light and delicate perforated canopy and a retractable double glazed roof. The design brief called for a delightful focal point and new multifunctional space for the courtyard that lies at the heart of the building.
The Robert Adam-designed building has been home to the Lansdowne Club since 1935. Oval Court is defined by a light and delicate perforated canopy inspired by Adam’s love of nature and geometry, fulfilling the client's key requirement for maximum openness and flexibility with maximum enclosure of heated internal space.
To achieve this, the design proposal utilises a barrel-vaulted retractable glass roof, giving an open and airy impression even when closed. The delicate canopy structure forms an oculus that creates an eye to the sky, under which a free plan can flexibly accommodate a range of functions.
The canopy itself is fabricated from 3mm thin perforated aluminium sheets, laser-cut and welded together to form an ultra-lightweight ceiling structure. It serves a number of functions including modulating light and sound, establishing visual and acoustic privacy for the rooms above, integrating lighting, and screening the structure and mechanics of the retractable roof.
Inspired by Adam, the ceiling is also an artwork, a wonder of modern digital design and fabrication techniques, where structure, ornament and function become one.
The canopy is a ‘Shell Lace Structure’. It is derived from a biomimetic technique invented by Tonkin Liu and developed in collaboration with Arup over eight years of practice-based research. The advanced geometry of the curving and corrugated shell form is incredibly strong, digitally modelled iteratively to ensure each curving piece is optimised in strength and can be formed from flat sheets.
Structural analysis and generative scripting is used to determine the perforation of the sheets with a pattern that responds locally to the stresses in each individual piece, enabling reductions in weight and load for maximum efficiency. This technique has been deployed on the Solar Gate sculpture in Hull (completed in 2017), and on the 40m tall Tower of Light in Manchester, which commences construction in 2018.
Like Adam we see great innovation and beauty in the structural forms and patterns of nature. The Oval Court can offer another layer to the rich heritage of the building, celebrating the beauty and efficiency of nature, in order to be both in keeping with Adam’s work and responsive to the tools and environmental sensitivities of our time.