FABRICATION: Gernot Riether’s translucent plastic pavilion

Gernot Riether’s translucent plastic pavilion series launched by AIA New Orleans


The project was selected for realisation at an annual AIA call of entries that asked for interventions to bring to life the historic city of New Orleans. Gernot Riether’s project suggests a series of pavilions sited within usually hidden, often private courtyards. With the city’s webpage announcing different events at their locations the forgotten places turn into new public destination. The pavilions are reactivating the city’s fabric by reversing it – what was a private space during the day becomes a public space for concerts, performances, and other events at night.


In the evening, the pavilions dramatically modulate the host environment, bringing attention to the city’s romantic and mysterious spaces, typically located deep in the block, away from the street. The first pavilion was realised in a courtyard, located on Orleans Street, close to North Rampart. From the street you can only see glimpses of the alien-like, bright glowing object. For curious residents and visitors, brave enough to enter the courtyard through an existing long narrow alleyway the strange object is revealed to be a beacon, an event space of open possibilities.

The pavilion was developed at the ‘Digital Design Build Studio’, that Prof. Gernot Riether directs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In his studio he is researching the possibilities of digital design and fabrication in order to develop new construction methods for environmentally friendly materials. With his project in New Orleans Gernot Riether shows how plastic can be used to build a new kind of lightweight structure that is affordable and environmentally friendly.

The 200 sq ft pavilion is developed from 320 variations of a single cell. Each cell is generated from different sets of attributes that are derived from the cell’s unique position within the overall form, different architectural and structural requirements and unique site conditions. Scripting allowed for parametrically transforming each cell’s geometry differently into seating, foundation, light fixtures, plant holders and rainwater collectors. The final overall form and spatial qualities of the pavilion emerged from networking the cells into a multifunctional building envelop.


The complexity of the cell’s digitally driven typology allowed combining structure and envelope in a single material hybrid system. The edges of each cell were folded differently based on each cells location within the overall structure. This provided stiffness within the cell. Connecting the edges of all cells form a complex geodesic system. To minimise the amount of material used for the envelope and to create a lightweight structure, the envelope generates wormholes that act brace- and column-like. The formation of wormholes within the surface increases the surface tension, which stabilised the structure of the pavilion. This allowed minimise the weight of the structure to 120kg.

Project Team: Gernot Riether, Valerie Bolen, Rachel Dickey, Emily Finau, Tasnouva Habib, Knox Jolly, Pei-Lin Liao, Keith Smith, April Tann. The pavilion was fabricated at the Digital Fabrication Laboratory, DFL at Georia Institute of Technology. Special Thanks to: Russell Gentry and Andres Cavieres