Our planet, our home, is in danger. The careful balance of its climate, the very thing that allows life to flourish, has been thrown into disarray. Temperatures are fluctuating wildly, storms are blazing through cities and towns stronger than before, and entire species of animals and plant life are disappearing. Some of this has historical precedent. But the fact that it's happening so quickly relative to the geologic scale of time suggests that there is something happening that is out of the ordinary.
The Earth can be thought of as a single system or organism that is constantly regulating its many functions. Seasons come and go to facilitate the renewal of crops. Plants inhale the same carbon dioxide that animals exhale. A complex framework is in place were every action in nature has a corresponding reaction—one that helps to make sure that the environment remains as hospitable to life as possible. This balance, or homeostasis, is an unconscious agreement between Earth’s living and nonliving elements. However, one organism has come along that is consciously altering the balance: the human.
We, for all our great accomplishments, have managed to introduce toxic and destabilizing elements into our environment. Factories pump smoke containing abnormal amounts of carbon particulates into the atmosphere, thus diminishing the levels of life-giving sunlight that reach the planet surface. Discarded plastics, a product only in existence for a half-century, have been ground down so much by the dynamics of the ocean that their constituent parts have made their way into the cells of fish, altering their reproductive systems in potentially disastrous ways. Humans have only seen a fraction of the consequences of their actions.
The good news is that something can be done to help. The first step towards a solution is to recognize that there is a problem. Across the world, information has spread about the peril our environment faces. Nonetheless, there still remains the need to inform more on how they as individuals can affect positive change.
Balance is conceived as one more outlet of information that can inspire people, however small a group, to look at their existence as an integral part of the natural world. It should be a show for all ages and creeds. The show should not patronize or instill guilt. At the very least, Balance should be an experience that presents good and solid information in an entertaining way. It is up to the audience to decide how to act on that information.
The core idea of Balance; that the Earth is one large organism constantly regulating its life-giving systems, is based on the Gaia Hypothesis first formulated by Dr. James Lovelock.
Early Development Process
The Balance Pavilion was a concept for a show that would travel around the United States along with fairs and carnivals spreading an entertaining yet important message about environmental responsibility. Over Christmas break in 2007, I began making little sketches for a traveling carnival. I was intrigued by the challenge of designing one that was socially relevant and much more aesthetically pleasing than the typical variety. NaturaFaire, as I came to call it, would have a multitude of small rides, shows, and other attractions each themed to a particular environmental topic (energy, food, water conservation, etc.). It would make stops in communities both large and small; hopefully gently influencing everyday people through entertainment to make more environmentally sensible lifestyle choices. One of the more notable aspects of the fair was that all the landscaping used during its run would be locally obtained and left as a new civic park when it moved on to the next destination. At the heart of NaturaFaire would be what became the Balance Pavilion; a show that distilled all the subject matter of the rest of the fair into an enjoyable and endearing narrative.
I originally looked to Art Nouveau designs as direction for how to flesh out the small sketches. The Art Nouveau movement incorporated natural and industrial forms. It was a reflection of the message I wanted NaturaFaire to convey: that humanity and the planets' natural systems can live in balance. The style would continue to influence my designs throughout development.
The architectural basis for the Balance Pavilion came from the intersection of two Logarithmic Spirals; a form found throughout nature (most notably in Nautilus shells and the center of sunflowers). Radial lines were projected every 15 degrees about the center. Their intersection with the spirals dictated the placement of exterior walls (the pavilion was originally designed as an enclosed structure) and provided shapes that were easier to disassemble and pack to be transported.
Within a short time, I had enough of a plan of how the show would be designed that I created an animatic as an overview for discussion and modification. It was created in Autodesk Maya using rough massing models of all the major show components: the spiral building, a seating area on hydraulic lifts, perimeter video projection screens and a central animatronic character. At the time, I referred to the project simply as the "Mother Nature Attraction." The Mother Nature animatronic would have been concealed on the ground level portion of the building. The seating platform would descend to ground level where the animatronic would "host" a tour through the wonders of nature. At the climax of the show, the animatronic would spin about its vertical axis while LED's (connected by tethers) deployed from its costume. With enough velocity and proper timing of the lights, I imagined an "Earth" seemingly growing out of Mother Nature. Other imagery could have also been displayed. In order for the animatronic to reset for the next show, the seating platform would ascend back to the second level where guests would exit down the second spiral ramp.
After the animatic, I moved on to working out practical details of how the show would look and operate. This included exterior embellishments and ADA accessibility accommodations.
Big Changes in the Modeling Phase
By the time I progressed to building a more detailed CG model of the show building, I had grown unhappy with its heavy and uneven tectonics. Each new change in scale and interior volume requirements (I wanted a theoretical capacity of about 1100 guests per hour) made the design feel more awkward. Also, the practicality of the LED tether system, elevating seating platform, and wheelchair ramps was becoming more and more difficult to justify. The solution came to me by accident while modeling. As is my practice, I assign different components of a building (walls, roofs, etc.) to different layers within Maya. While working on interior supports, I turned off the wall layer. What I saw was the thin roof panels gracefully curving their way to the building's pinnacle. Suddenly, the heavy tectonics disappeared. After much debate, I decided to make the Balance Pavilion (as it was now known) open-air.
The structure supports were based on two things: the Salle Humbert-de-Romans Concert Hall by noted French architect Hector Guimard and my daily commute down the oak-lined streets of Savannah, Georgia. In my design, the supports would be the tree trunks while the roof panels would become the leafy canopy. The supports are secured at their pinnacle by joints concealed by a orange-yellow sphere (representing the life-giving sun) and at their base by heavy stone footings.
Changes  came quickly after the decision was made to have the pavilion be open-air. The seating area took on a more traditional theater-in-the-round layout (increasing capacity to 525 guests per show). The perimeter projection screens were shaped differently and became panels constructed of Transparent Organic LED's (TOLED's). Space that was previously unusable in the enclosed design was used for two small cafes that would serve unique and healthy foods. One consequence of the enclosed to open-air conversion was the inability to control lighting; something that invalidated some of the rough script I wrote for the show.
Details and Materials
The structures' supports are constructed with a recycled steel core covered with bamboo paneling.
Recycled steel and aluminum is used as the core materials of each roof panel. Enveloping the steel is an organic mesh that allows vines, flowers, and other ground cover plants to grow throughout. Theoretically, these plants could be kept healthy during transport by being stored in mobile greenhouses.
The theater seats mirror the design of the structure supports. I designed them to have an elastic mesh seat and back that can be collapsed for packing after removal of the stabilizing metal rods.
Mother Nature (now referred to as Gaia) is placed on an elevated platform inside a globe-like structure that is larger than what could be accomplished with the original tethered LED idea. Gaia is be introduced when each of the panels of the globe open like a lotus blossom. Each panel, like the perimeter screens, is made of TOLED's. Their variable opacity allow Gaia to be seen through them even as they rotate. The animatronic can also be seen "interacting" with the imagery when viewed from certain angles.
Final Plans and Elevations
Soundtrack for "Mother Nature Attraction" animation is Celebration, featured on Music From Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park CD. Soundtrack for final animation is Aldebaran by Enya.