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Nebbia Works constructs mono-material pavilion for V&A from low-carbon aluminium

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Between Forests and Skies pavilion by Nebbia Works at V&A for LDF

Nebbia Works has created a self-supporting pavilion from simple aluminium sheets at the V&A museum as part of the London Design Festival to highlight the material’s sustainable potential.

Set within the museum’s John Madejski Garden, the installation consists of 27 metal sheets of identical dimensions, each propped up by a single leg carved and bent from its surface.

Between Forests and Skies pavilion at V&A
Nebbia Works’ pavilion is installed in the V&A’s John Madejski Garden

The structure is fused together to create the impression of being one continuous piece and made entirely from one batch of the metal, which manufacturer En+ claims is the “lowest carbon aluminium the world has ever produced”.

Only 0.01 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) was emitted for each tonne of material created, the company says, falling far below the four-tonne threshold that is generally applied to low-carbon aluminium.

“We’re going right down so there are virtually no emissions,” En+ communications director Dawn James told Dezeen.

Close up of Nebbia Works installation at LDF
The installation is made entirely of aluminium

Once the festival has come to a close, the pavilion will be melted down into ingot and turned into products, showcasing aluminium’s ability to be infinitely recycled.

To enable this, the structure does not rely on the addition of any other materials to hold itself aloft.

Overhead view of Between Forests and Skies installation by Nebbia Works
27 aluminium sheets are jointed to create the impression of one continuous structure

Instead, its algorithmically designed legs combined with the innate strength and lightness of aluminium make the pavilion entirely self-supporting and thus easy to dismantle and repurpose.

“We were trying to use a minimal amount of material and a minimal amount of fabrication to achieve the final piece, which basically turns 2D sheets into a 3D articulated space,” said Nebbia Works co-founder Brando Posocco.

“What you see is exactly what you get,” added V&A curator Meneesha Kellay. “There are no layers of material or a facade with lots of things hidden behind it.”

Bent aluminium in Nebbia Works pavilion for LDF
The pavilion’s legs are cut from its aluminium roof panels

The pavilion’s legs were cut from its aluminium roof panels using a water jet cutter. They were then folded out by attaching them to a gantry crane and rolling them around a huge tube.

No lacquer or finish was applied to the material in order to maintain its recyclability. Rather, the surface was hand-buffed and its edges manually polished, helping to give the aluminium an organic quality.

“Most of the time you associate aluminium with being cold and mechanical, so one of the tasks we set ourselves was trying to make this material a bit more approachable,” Posocco explained.

“The overall finish is not perfect or pristine, there is a kind of human touch to it.”

Between Forests and Skies pavilion in garden of V&A
The entire structure is made from aluminium down to its fixings

The aluminium used to create the pavilion is the first batch En+ has ever made using its revised production process.

So far, efforts to create low-carbon aluminium have largely focused on the huge amount of energy that is needed to run the industrial smelters, where aluminium oxide is separated into aluminium and oxygen through a process called electrolysis.

This accounts for around 65 per cent of emissions from aluminium production and can easily be circumvented by running the smelters using hydro or geopower.

But this still leaves so-called process emissions from smelting, which are generated as the carbon anodes used to induce this chemical reaction erode over time, releasing CO2.

Close up of aluminium pavilion by Nebbia Works
A walkway allows visitors to enter the installation and walk on the pond

En+ has eliminated these emissions by swapping out the carbon anodes for inert anodes made from a ceramic alloy.

“These inert anodes do not erode during the process, so you get pure oxygen out of the top and pure aluminium out of the bottom of the smelter,” James explained.

“For us, the smelting process accounts for 25 per cent of emissions, which we will be saving with inert anodes. So there are virtually no emissions.”

Aluminium pavilion on pond at the V&A museum
The pavilion is reflected in the water of the pond

From here, the aim is to create a completely zero-carbon aluminium by 2050, in time for the company to become net-zero as a whole.

To achieve this, En+ is looking at rolling out the inert anode technology across all of its smelters in Siberia, as well as looking at its entire value chain, from the way that its refineries are powered to the mining of bauxite, which accounts for another two per cent of the company’s production emissions.

Walkway across Between Forests and Skies pavilion by Nebbia Works
No lacquers or coatings are applied to the aluminium

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the use of inert anodes combined with hydropower could help to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the aluminium industry, which currently accounts for two per cent of all global emissions.

“Advances in anode technology could be quickly commercialized and offer wide-scale decarbonization for the industry,” the report concluded.

Close up of pavilion by Nebbia Works for LDF
Its surfaces are hand-buffed and polished to create an organic texture

Another company making use of inert anodes is Elysis, a joint venture between major aluminium producers Rio Tinto and Alcoa, which has already supplied its first batch to Apple and hopes to commercialise its technology in 2024.

“Making industry-wide changes is really fundamental in terms of carbon reduction,” said Madhav Kidao, the other half of Nebbia Works. “And it’s really important as designers that we challenge how we specify things and where they come from.”

Overhead shot of Between Forests and Skies pavilion in V&A garden
The installation is on show as part of the London Design Festival

Elsewhere, the steel industry is also trying to clean up its act with Swedish producer SSAB producing the first fossil-free batch of the alloy last month.

Swedish designer Lena Bergström has already created a candle holder from the material while carmaker Volvo claimed the first commercial batch.

Photography is by Ed Reeve.

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