Shadow Pavilion

A botanical-inspired structure.

An ellipsoid pavilion made from over 100 aluminum cones

Shadow Pavilion is a self-supporting structure made from over 100 aluminum laser-cut cones.

Located in the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the pavilion could be seen from the main road entrance. The pavilion was a shaded shelter for groups walking along the nearby trails. The cones funneled light and sound to the interior space, offering visitors a space to take in the views and sounds of the surrounding landscape.

Shadow Pavilion is both a surface and a structure made entirely of holes. The double-curved surface/structure was achieved by layering cones for strength and conical rings to offset either compressive or tensile forces. The overall shape of the pavilion is an ellipsoid tilted upwards from the ground plane to produce an oculus at one end of the pavilion. Each ring and cone were held to its neighbor by 6 connection points, strengthening the overall structure. The combination of a double-curved surface and a hexagonal grid reveals a spiral unit organization based on the botanical model of phyllotaxis that defines the arrangement of leaves on a stem.

Shadow Pavilion also tested the limits of sheet aluminum. Once the aluminum was laser-cut, all the parts were formed into cones or conical rings and assembled into sub-assemblies that would be transported to the site. The base cones were closed and filled with gravel to anchor the pavilion. The assembly process took four days on site and used 11,000 pop rivets.


Shadow Pavilion explored the paradox of a perforated surface/structure where the removal of material typically makes a structure lighter and weaker, but in this case, because of its geometry provided strength.

Various permutations of different organizational logics were explored through digital and scale models. Several approaches to lighting and interaction were implemented in prototypes at model scale but were not incorporated in the built structure at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Some of the scale models and prototypes were shown in the ‘Research-through-Making Exhibition’ juried by Sarah Herda, Reed Kroloff, and Catherine Seavitt-Northernson.


Shadow Pavilion built on the collaboration with architect Karl Daubmann established for ‘Fire’ in 2008. While the built structure at Matthaei Botanical Gardens did not incorporate any of the lighting and interactive components created during this project, these would be further developed in subsequent collaborative projects (THR_33 in 2010, and menotme in 2012). Shadow Pavilion received an AIA 2010 Small Project Practitioners Award, Architect Magazine’s 2010 R+D Award for architectural research, and was highly commended in the 2011 ar+d Awards for Emerging Architecture from the Architectural Review.



Date: 2009
Location: Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Client: Self-initiated research project

Design: Summer 2009
Completed: Fall 2009

This project was made possible by a Research Through Making grant from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan

Karl Daubmann (PLY Architecture)
John Marshall (rootoftwo)
Assisted by: Chris Johnson, Ngoc Thy Phan, Alex Timmer
Structural Advisor: Andy Greco, SDI
Additional construction help provided by: Peggy Chong, Jessica Mattson, Katie Santer, Dwight Song, Alexander Watanabe

Dimensions: 450’ sq. ft

Media: Laser-cut aluminum, 11,000 pop rivets, gravel.

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