- Client: ArDe
- Value: Confidential
- Start Date: November 2015
The House of Mastication is a dining pavilion for a design festival at Somerset House. The proposal is a response to the epitome of civilisation that is dining, the establishment and evolution of civil structures that characterise Somerset House’s history, and the building’s connection to civil engineering.
Eating together is a triumph of humanity: at once social and sensual, at once cultural and visceral. Like other base pleasures, eating might have been considered too animal to enjoy in polite company, but instead it is deemed decorous. The mouth is the simultaneous vessel for both civil conversation and communal mastication.
The House of Mastication encloses a space 50m long, up to 7m wide and 10m tall. Made from abattoir curtains tensioned across engineered timber arches, the pavilion pinches shut at each end and yawns open at its centre. Timber arches are fixed into a weighted spreader beam to avoid foundations or fixings into the Riverside Terrace. The structure is prefabricated and pivoted into place on site with temporary tensioning cables. The timbers fan out in an exponential, balanced sequence, with the increasing self-weight of the system inducing tension in the exterior curtain and thus removing the need for longitudinal, secondary members. This fanning also creates a perspective distortion reminiscent of the interior of a human mouth.
The House of Mastication was proposed for a design festival at Somerset House, a place with a long provenance of the establishment and evolution of civil structures. Built on land reclaimed from the church during the dissolution of the monasteries, the old Somerset House (‘Somerset Place’) became a hotbed of Catholic conspiracy in a time when the relationship between church and state was being redefined. During the English Civil War, the then renamed ‘Denmark House’ served as an Army headquarters and was the site of a colossal sale of royal treasures to raise money for the Parliamentary Army. In 1776, Somerset House was built in response to a demand for a national building; a testament to civic pride when notions of civilisation were being re-established in the context of changes to government, attitudes to education, social classes, morals and manners.
This period saw not only the rise in civil as opposed to royal, but also civil as opposed to military institutions. Before the 18th C, most engineers were military men and no formal network or professional institution existed for civil engineers. The Institution of Civil Engineers was founded in 1818 and its first president was Thomas Telford, master stonemason on the construction of Somerset House.
What better place, then to celebrate civilised engorgement than Somerset House?